I glanced at the TV screen and saw a burning house. The crowd was shouting and pointing to the fire. I switched the channel and read a subtitle in Malay “Tembak! Tembak!” – the Malay word for “Fire! Fire!” Before I could say anything, the imp of my brother called out, “Got you there! Shoot!” Of course, “fire” could mean “shoot” in another context. Reading a dialogue in the papers, this sentence popped out, “I will fire you if ….” Fire in this case means to be sacked. The word fire has different meanings depending on the situation.
The history of fire will take us back to the days of the cavemen who lived in fear of wild animals or who ate raw meat or uncooked plants. Later, they used “fire” to survive the dangers of the wild and the cold. The heat from the sun was harnessed to make fire. From here, man progressed to man-made fires. These were made from natural materials like wax, kerosene, and gas. With a mere flick of a switch, we now get a lighted stove that burns from gas or electricity.
A fire has made life more comfortable as the fireplace keeps the bones and body warm in winter. Food can be cooked and need not be consumed raw. Strange that when a man has discovered the power of fires to cook food, some people have decided to revert to eating “raw” food. The Japanese like to eat their seafood raw. We have the meat-eaters who like their steak to be cooked “rare” or “medium rare” or “well done”.
Then there is the barbecue and stay or having food grilled on an open charcoal fire. We can also have baked or roasted meat by cooking over fire. Have you ever been to a campfire? Boy Scouts, girl guides, cubs, and rangers have wonderful memories of their camping days, sitting around and singing and cooking over a campfire. Watching the logs crackling and the flinders and ash flying into the air and the night filled with happy chatter and laughter makes for memorable school times.
Then what about the fires that are so huge that they destroy without mercy. A house on fire, a building on fire or even forest fires lick and eat up everything in its path. No fire victim could ever forget the uncontrollable fear of being caught in a fire and they will relive the nightmares of a fire over and over again. We can tame fire to serve our human needs but a fire that is allowed to blaze away, uncontrolled, heightened by the forces of nature like hurricanes, tornados and whirlwinds can destroy precious lives and property.
Yet, knowing the force of fires, man has been known to play with fire. The ordinary matchstick, the one-touch lighter, the gas flame, the burning candle, the lighted cigarette when used wisely, is man’s friend but abused or misused can become man’s worst enemy.