As I sit and watch the season's fires creep up the hillsides, I ponder the strangeness of the scenes on my television. Firefighter
s, faces black with soot
, wield axes and adze
s and hoses and flares. Flares? Yes, flares. They spend much time lighting countervailing fires to create fuel-less areas known as firebreak
Fight fire with fire. This must be the origin of the term.
I am struck by how easy it is to burn large areas when you have the tools and the will. A magnesium flare and a determination to see flames licking fifty or a hundred feet in the air, those appear to be all you'd need to utterly destroy an old-growth forest the size of Omaha.
I watch the tiny men on my television doing just that in Montana, in Wyoming, in the Los Angeles hills. Everywhere, everywhere, there are fires needing to be set. Wait, the announcer-
"...and as the flames continue into their fifth day, there is no sign of a letup or that these brave men have brought this conflagration under control. The scene commander has acknowledged that they are short of manpower and transportation, which is hampering their backburns; he is calling now for surrounding area firefighters to participate in the firesetting process..."
Hah. Wimps. Pansies. Girly-men. Flares, pah. Who needs 'em? We had the Real Deal at our fingertips, we did; we were the flamelords, the burners, the ashcan express, all those names and more. We could turn the comforting blue sky into a hellish maw of fire and destruction; we could turn the cloudy day into a rain of pure and cleansing flame. We did, too. The helicopters and the airplanes would pass lazily overhead, and the small slow shapes would tumble off them to flutter to the ground, huge iron maple seeds that spin lazily as they plummet. You'd follow them with your eyes, from the spotter plane or the orbiting fighters, watching their silver wink-wink-wink down towards the green ocean of foliage below you; always, you tried to see where exactly they entered the greenery, but always you were disappointed. Some fifty feet above the forest crown the small silver specks would transmute into hellish clouds of orange, sullen masses of combustion as the jellied gasoline was sprayed into the muggy night air and the squibs fired.
I think of this, again, as I have so often, watching the television babble mindlessly about the National Guard and the U.S. Forestry Service. I think of the power and the glory, the responsibility, the awesome Fist of God that once we would wield, before it was taken from us.
I'll show you pathetic worms how to set a fire. Come on.