There are many things in this world that are useful to mankind but are also a danger by circumstances or if used in the wrong way. It doesn’t take too much thought to think of one or two such as vehicles, computers, cellphones, etc. The one I am thinking of as been around for eons and brings us more comfort than grief most of the time.

It didn’t take mankind much time to tame fire. I am sure he had seen it in nature though lightening strikes and combustion in one way or another. So he quickly learned that fire kept him warm on a cold night; that it lit his way on dark nights and kept wild animals at bay.

When he put that first steak over the fire he learned that cooked meat was more tender and very flavorful; he honed weapons over it, made pottery that lasted for many years due to its hardening and found, as we do, that watching a cheerful fire flicker and flame on a cool evening brings comfort and peace.

Before long he was learning more and more ways to start one of those fires by twisting a stick in a hole, using friction, or by striking rock against iron to make sparks, both with very flammable tender, flammable material such as dried moss or leaves, nearby to catch the spark. The first match came along in 1827, so prior to that it took a lot of work to make fire, or a responsibility to never let your fire die so it could be restarted the next day. Of course early man could also see how fires could go the other way. Lightening started fires in the forests which would burn and put them in danger should they be on its downside. He know fire had no qualms about destroying anything flammable in its path. Something we know all to well today.

We agonize over the many acres of forest that burn due to dry weather each year in our western states, we feel the lost for those who lose their lives or homes in its wake.

In 2013, there were 4,319,546 acres burned in 47,579 fires in the United States. Of those 9,230 were caused by lightening and 38,349 by humans. Sometimes fires are prescribed to prevent larger and more damaging fires. In 2013, 18,764 of these fires were prescribed. Uncontrolled wildfires cost millions of dollars in property lost each year and often lives as well. We may not have forest fires nearby, but when a wheat field catches on fire during harvest, it is a serious situation with flames traveling fast and reaching 15-20 feet in the air. It has taken lives and hundreds of thousands of dollars in combines and equipment. Each year homes go up in flames, often through the carelessness of its occupants.

All of us are familiar with Smokey the Bear, an icon that promotes fire safety. His motto, “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires,” is well known. That must be true according to the number of fires caused by humans. Smokey has been a familiar face to children of many generations. Smokey’s website has lots of information for children and adults; even a map that tells you where fires are occurring in the United States. This map is updated every Friday. It can be found at:

We’ve come a long way since that first fire, but still struggle to contain it when it is uncontrolled. Men and women risk their lives each and every day to stem fires and their destruction. Prevention is the best option by being careful with fire and its many uses.

We sometimes forget that in the belly of the earth there is fire. It manifests itself in volcano action and hot springs and geysers all over the world. It’s hard to imagine molten rock and the red lava that is emitted from an active volcano. Of course controlled fires are friendly and have so many uses today. Every car on the road has an internal combustion engine, a controlled, specific fire. Furnaces, electricity, steamships and airplanes all begin with a controlled fire; it drives spaceships and is used to sterilize surfaces; it’s widely used to produce products in industry.

Although you may cook with electricity, it all starts with a fire, in most cases coal, although more and more changes are occurring here. At one time the cookstove was the mainstay of the kitchen, the heart of the home. It warmed the home, heated water for washing, cooked the food and in general made life easier. All of us enjoy a campfire, whether it’s to cook on or just to roast marshmallows, the cheerfulness it brings forth is enjoyed. The white, red, orange, and yellow flames dancing over the wood and the glowing of hot coals is just comforting and peaceful.

Fire can be friendly or a raging inferno that puts lives at risk and endangers the environment and all that is in it. At its tamest it makes our lives easier and more enjoyable. So, enjoy its controlled uses as they surround us in our everyday living.


Jeannine Roediger has lived on a family farm all her life, first as a farmer’s daughter and now as a farmer’s wife. She writes weekly for the Times Bulletin and enjoys gardening, quilting, cooking, bird watching and writing.