As I write this, several wildfires are burning in my state. The largest and least contained fire burns in eastern Arizona, having destroyed an area of over 400,000 acres as of this minute. It could possibly become the largest fire in Arizona’s history, a title previously held by the Rodeo-Chediski fire of 2002. The fires are fueled by extremely dry conditions. To my recollection we have had no measurable rain in over eight months.
In my previous blog entry, I noted how dry and brittle the landscape is through the southwest. To think about how volatile these conditions are gives me pause; the wind keeps pushing the fire across dry brush and trees, completely outside human control. I think back on the Rodeo-Chediski fire of 2002, the largest wildfire in Arizona history, which consumed over 468,000 acres of forest land before it was contained. It had started as two separate fires that eventually merged. Both were human-caused, intentionally set. The Rodeo fire was set by a man hoping to find work as a quick-response firefighter (I am not kidding). The Chediski fire was set by a stranded motorist who was trying to get the attention of a helicopter. Her plight was a little more understandable; it was an ill-conceived decision, nonetheless.
A cause has not yet been determined for this fire, which is called the Wallow fire, but it is believed to have been the result of a camp fire that was unattended. How long will it take us to learn? Do national forests have to be closed to the public to prevent these things from happening in the future?
I heard an interesting thought on the radio recently, from a sermon that a well-known pastor had given on the subject of the return of Christ. I believe it was David Jeremiah; I apologize if I am crediting him with someone else’s ideas but because of Harold Camping’s failed end-of-the-world prediction there have been so many sermons on this topic. Anyway, the thought was this: God is the Author of the play, and we all have a part in it whether we acknowledge that or not. Our lives are filled with allegory and metaphor. God speaks to us through His word and through His creation; all we have to do is listen. If we seek Him, we find.
As the fires are extinguished by those brave, young people who have made it their vocation to fight them, the landscape will be scorched and blackened. The monsoon season will come and the rain will run right off the mountains, with no vegetation to soak it up. But then, saplings will be planted and in time, the forest will return.
The underlying issue is stewardship; Arizona’s forests are thick with undergrowth that should have been cleared out. Managing these forests is an absolute necessity to keep this from being an annual event. There is a lot of blame-storming; it is said that at one time Arizona had a logging industry but that environmentalists blocked the harvesting of trees through the court system, and ran logging out of the state. We have also seen infestations of bark beetles that kill the trees, making them more susceptible to fire.
Again I find myself wondering, what is wrong with people? So many of these fires are intentionally set, and then you have people whose campfires get out of control. Then another metaphor begins to take shape as I consider these things: an unattended fire in a dry forest can erupt into a raging, deadly blaze, destroying everything and leaving behind a scorched landscape that can only be restored slowly, one sapling at a time, and with the passing of many, many seasons.
So don’t set fire to your own environment, and don’t leave your campfire unattended. If it doesn’t burn you up along with everything else, God can and will heal, but the process can take a very long time. Emotional and spiritual wounds affect the parts of us that make us what we really are; guard your territory and don’t let the enemy in.