The picture below was taken by my father from the front yard of the house I grew up in. The blowup you see is approximately 30 miles away, up the Chewuch River valley that flows down into the town of Winthrop WA. In the days to follow, in what would come to be named “Thirty-Mile Fire”, 21 forest service fire personnel and 2 civilians were entrapped by the blaze—4 of them lost their lives.
On July 10 2001, the day of this photo, I myself was part of a 12 person extended attack firecrew stationed at a make-shift heliport about 8 miles south of this blowup. Our crew had been re-routed off a 12 hour shift on the “South Libby Fire” some 20 miles away, and were stationed as possible reinforcements. The simultaneous incidents of South Libby and Thirty-Mile completely took over our community. The local high school was turned into a state-wide incident command hub in a manner hours—everything happened so fast.
Earlier this year I talked with a good friend and fellow pastor (Lutheran Pastor, Shawn Neider) who also worked the South Libby fire with me all those years ago. We talked about wildfires in general as part of our own experience, both of us from small eastern Washington communities. Numerous friends of mine and even my own family have all worked for the forest fire service at one time.
Shawn and I talked about how fire burns in the two most common fuel types: “light, flashy fuels” like grasslands (vs) what are called “1000-hour fuels” or heavy timber. The comparison I make here is aimed at how one lives out the Christian life with enduring hope, joy, beauty, and unmistakable passion so as to ignite others to the same intense light Jesus himself evokes.
In a typical wind-driven burn, grasslands or light-flashy fuels explosively ignite, burn hot and fast, then quickly die. Their speed is incredible but their danger is relatively minimal. Conversely, a typical wind-driven event in dense, oily brush or heavy timber requires an enormous amount heat-energy to ignite and sustain. Statistically, its quite rare. But once this is reached the duration of the burn is, as they say “1000-hours”. Under the right conditions, unmanned fires of this type can retain there heat energy well into December. Their speed is slower, more subtle, more clever in a way. But their relative danger is incredibly high. In fact, the last hundred years records most wildland fire fatalities have occurred in this fuel-type: “Mann Gulch” “Storm King Mountain” “Thirty Mile” and “Yarnell” four of the most deadly.
When speaking of enduring witness, the analogy I present is very near to Jesus’ parable of the sower’s seed landing in different soils. Which soil type will not only receive the word, but take it into themselves and hold on to it as if holding the one seed to all of life itself? Many will receive. Yet few will bare fruit. That is, few will endure the extinguishing efforts of the enemy. And herein lies a great tension in watching someone burn bright for Jesus. Of course, we want to see people burn bright with passion for the living God. But even more, we want people to burn long long into the late season. To endure with joy and glory.
The questions I ask of myself of my own life (and of others too if I might speak into theirs), are we people of passion and patience alike? Are we willing to let God work in the present? And to do so at his pace in his time?
Again, this tension is quite real. Today is the day the Lord has made. Will we arise with such incredibly intensity that the gates of hell seemingly burn before our eyes only to be snuffed out moments later by a couple gallons of water? Or will we collect our heat, kindle it, make use of temperature, humidity, wind, topography, and adjacent fuels so as to burn bright for the duration, so as to consume everything on the mountain?
The Bible tells us that the glory or “joy” of the Lord is our strength (Neh 8). The Bible also tells us that the glory or “joy” of the Lord is his church (1Thess 2). Indeed we are if we remain in HIM. In Him, we are far more than mere summer fires—an all-consuming column rising mightily into eternity.