I have a love – hate relationship with fire. On one hand, I’m a Girl Guide, so I love nothing more than to sit around a campfire telling stories, singing songs, and roasting marshmallows, spider dogs, and the occasional sour key (don’t ask – it was a dare). On the other hand, fire terrifies me. Like wake up at night sweating with my heart racing terrified. It’s always been like that. There is no specific event that triggered it, but I’ve always been very aware that while we like to think fire is an element that can be controlled, it can’t be – not all the time. As a result, I’m meticulous about fire safety and making sure a campfire or a cooking fire is well and truly out before I go on and do anything else. Even then I’ve been known to sneak out of my tent to double and triple check that it’s out and nothing is smoldering. My family teases me all the time about this habit, but it’s either that or not sleep all night because I’m obsessing over whether or not the fire is out. I take solace in the fact that almost all of my family is terrified of heights (both parents included) but I’m fine – the only thing I don’t like is someone else rocking the gondola or the suspension bridge but being up there? No issues other than the occasional bit of ear pain caused by the wonky tubes and not liking pressure changes. I also have a fear of dock spiders but that comes from a specific incident and I’ve become much better over the years with that fear.
Fire is a force of nature that is just so unpredictable. Water is too when you think about it but I took years and years of swimming lessons, wear a life jacket, and control my exposure to it when it’s very cold to limit my risk. There are some ways to mitigate the risk of fire – like having working smoke detectors (yes, lots), a fire extinguisher in the kitchen (yep), and a fire escape plan (always), but when it comes down to it, fire feels less controlled than water. It could also be an exposure thing – I grew up around water – we had a backyard, fenced in pool in the house I grew up in and we’ve had a family cottage on a lake – so learning water safety and how to swim was a non negotiable in the house. I’m happiest in or on the water and always have been. As a kid my parents joked that I was part fish because they would have to drag me out of the water for meals or bedtime. Fire was present, and I was taught fire safety in Girl Guides from a young age but it never felt like a safe thing. This is all despite my godfather being a firefighter and teaching me lots of cool things about fire. Hence the love-hate relationship – I’m fascinated by it, am great at building them, and enjoy small campfires, while at the same time worrying that it will become out of control and burn down all that I hold dear.
So when I heard from a friend who lives in Fort McMurray about the wildfires burning near there on the weekend I was worried. I told her to be safe and to keep an eye on it since wildfires are by their very nature, unpredictable. A sudden shift in the wind (especially in northern Alberta where the landscape is flatter and winds can appear out of nowhere) and things could go from “I’ve got this” to “UH-OH” in a hurry. Which is exactly what happened on Tuesday. A shift and increase in wind activity drove the fire from the outskirts of town into town and threatened all of the homes, businesses, and people in the city. Fort McMurray is an oil-town – most of the people there work in the oil industry directly or indirectly. The town has grown a lot in the past 20 years since I first visited, and now it seems destined to shrink due to the fire. When I heard that the whole town had been evacuated, I started creeping the social media feeds of my friends who are in the area, making sure they were safe. They all left with nothing but the clothes they were wearing, whatever they could grab in 2 minutes, and each other. All of the people I know managed to get their pets out, but not everyone did – and that breaks my heart. I have learned that the SPCA has set up a way for pet owners forced to leave their furry friends behind to let them know and that they’d do whatever possible to keep the animals safe, which makes me feel a bit better. I have worried about this kind of scenario so many times that I have a bag packed under my bed of stuff to grab if this sort of thing happened. I have been debating taking it apart but I think I’ll keep it awhile longer. The evacuees drove or sat in gridlock for hours upon hours last night before reaching either an Oil Sands employee camp to the north or the city of Edmonton to the south. The hospital had been evacuated earlier in the day and the patients moved to other facilities within the province. As of right now, the people are safe even if their homes aren’t. As I’ve heard over and over today, houses can be rebuilt, people can’t. 1600 structures have been affected at last count and since the fire has resisted all efforts at control, that number will grow.
It’s a horrible situation and I feel so helpless sitting here in Ontario watching from afar. So I did what I could – I donated to the Red Cross Alberta Fires Appeal – it’s super easy, you get a tax receipt for a charitable donation, and works well on mobile too. You can also donated $5 by texting the word REDCROSS to 30333 (Canada only I think) and following the prompts. In a situation like this, money is the best option because nobody knows what is going to be needed and the logistics of shipping donations can take a lot of time and effort which would be better served helping people directly. If you are in a financial position to donate any amount, please do.
Word Wednesday word – Fire. I’ve been thinking of using this word for a while because it is an interesting word from an etymology standpoint, and if I’m already going to have nightmares about fires because of the news, looking up information about the word isn’t going to do any more harm. Fire comes from the Old English word fȳr – which is the noun form of fȳrian meaning to supply with material for a fire. Fyrian is related to the Dutch word vuur, the Norse word fūrr, and the German word Feuer all of which have been around since before 900AD which is as far back as most etymologists trace modern languages. Indeed the world fire is one of the oldest in the English language.
As I write this, the fire is still burning, nobody knows when or how it will be put out. All we can do is hope, pray, and trust that the Fire fighters from across Alberta, Canada, and from other countries are doing everything they can to save as much of the town as possible. Then the long, slow process of healing and rebuilding can begin.
Fire (fī(-ə)r) Noun