The element of fire

“Deep peace of the shining stars to you.”

Gaelic blessing

With record temperatures and wildfires raging across the world, fire is probably very prominent in many people’s lives and minds at the moment. In respect to my own country, the U.K, twenty houses were burnt down in East London by wildfires. Unheard of in the U.K. Here I explore fire, both in environmental terms and pagan mysticism. I will end with some tips on how we can mitigate against fire.

Fire and the environment

As it’s name suggests, global warming is going to result in just that – a warming of our planet. This is something that many of us are already experiencing. In the last 25 years our planet has warmed by 0.6 °C. This will result in widespread harm to the environment and thus to ourselves.

Image credit: moein moradi

Killer heatwaves.

In England the temperature soared to 40 °C on 19th July. I’m not a hot person and I certainly suffered! Heatwaves are also projected to become the norm. Heatwaves are life threatening. They can take more lives than similar weather events such as hurricanes, tornadoes and floods combined. In August 2003, at least 35,000 people in Europe died when temperatures rose (The New Scientist, 2003). In England, the hottest temperature recorded during the 2003 heatwave was 38.5 °C (MET office, 2003). Over 2000 English people lost their lives. In the U.K, these were the worst peacetime fatalities due to one single incident since 1952. Surprisingly, little attention was paid to these deaths by the British mainstream media though. Why is this?

The victims behind the fires.

Image credit: Sarmad Mughul

It’s debatable why these deaths weren’t paid more attention and several reasons are likely to be proposed. Heatwaves in general aren’t paid as much media attention as other extreme weather events. However, one reason that media attention was lacking is possibly because many of the victims were elderly or vulnerable. It’s true that younger, healthier people also lost their lives for various reasons. Hot, sunny weather, light winds and no vertical air movement – the type of weather that occurs during heatwaves – intensifies air pollution in the surrounding area. This is a threat to everyone but particularly those who already suffer from lung and heart conditions. Deaths of people aged 75 years old were more than one-third more than usual. This doesn’t make these ‘natural’ deaths of old age though. These were excess deaths caused by the heatwaves, likely compounded by social and economic disadvantages. This lack of media coverage results in a lack of awareness, leading to more risk to lives. Since 2003, the U.K has produced an annual National Heatwave Plan and the death toll has dropped. The amount of media attention paid in general to disabled, elderly and vulnerable people in the climate crisis is still disappointingly lacking though. Vunerable people are also more at risk in wildfires. ‘Climate Darwinism’ is apparent in the treatment and media coverage of wildfires.

Fire in pagan mysticism.

In pagan mysticism, fire is associated with intention, passion and energy. I also often associate it with this time of year, high summer. Fire is a destructive force but it can also be a creative force. It’s doubtful if passion for the environment has ever been greater. A recent XR U.K open zoom call attracted an unprecedented 1000 participants. This has been triggered, at least in part, by the recent heatwaves.

Five tips for the protection of fire.

  • Create more green spaces! Green spaces within cities and towns cool the surrounding area.
  • Keep windows closed during the day when it’s hottest. Open them at night when it’s cooler.
  • Freeze a towel, then wrap it around yourself to keep cool.
  • Look out for neighbours, particularly the disabled or elderly.
  • Don’t use your BBQ!

Bibliography

Bhattacharya, S. (2003) The 2003 European heatwave caused 35,000 deaths https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn4259-the-2003-european-heatwave-caused-35000-deaths/ (Accessed: 26th August 2022)

MET office (2003) Hot Spell – August 2003 https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/weather/learn-about/weather/case-studies/heatwave (Accessed: 26th August 2022)

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