Colorado Forest Fire – June 2012
Driven by high winds, brittle conditions and lightning strikes, wildfires rage across swaths of the Southwest and the Midwest.There were at least 19 major wildfires burning across the western United States, including one of the largest blazes in the history of New Mexico. However, forest fires can have both detrimental and beneficial effects.
Some of the negative effects obviously include the loss of life, for both humans and wildlife, and mounting property losses where people have chosen to build homes in fire-prone forested areas.
But in addition to these losses, there are a number of environmental impacts that are caused by forest fires. These include the loss of soil nitrogen and sulfur, increased erosion and reduced filtration of water runoff. Hot fires also consume organic matter in soil (which causes soil to appear dark) and results in the loss of cation exchange (biotic interaction required for nitrogen absorption), deterioration of soil structure and compaction. There is also a decrease in the buffering of soil temperature, causing soil to be warmer and drier in the summer, colder in the winter.
Lodgepole Pine Seedlings in Yellowstone NP
But there are some positive effects as well. Many trees are adapted to forest fire conditions and are in fact dependent upon the occasion fire. Some adaptations include increased bark thickness (coastal redwoods), increased seed germination, and the sprouting from dormant buds from latent roots or shoots (oaks, basswoods). However, the most fascinating effect is the releasing of seeds from serotinous cones that can only release their seed with the heat of fire (jack pine, lodgepole pine, black spruce, redwood) and the subsequent exposure of mineral soil for seed germination.
Fire seems to be a necessary force in both the natural and spiritual world, which for some may seem inseparable. In Psalm 89:46, David cried out, “How long, LORD? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire?” In this context fire is obviously associated with punishment.
But fire is also associated with a cleansing or purifying process. In 1 Peter 1:7, he writes, “These (trials and troubles) have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
Fire, although undesirable like troubles and trials, can be instrumental in purifying the soul and refining us like gold. We each face our share of problems in life and sometimes we’re forced to face the fire, take the heat and deal with the harsh realities of life. On occasion they simply come our way or can be the consequence of poor decisions we’ve made. But just like the forest fires that are sweeping the nation, they can serve either a negative or positive purpose both in nature and in the spiritual realm.
A friend of mine is facing cancer for the second time. He just completed his sixth round of chemo and seems to be doing well. It’s inspiring to hear him share about how this “wildfire” in his life has been transforming is priorities, relationships and intimacy with God. Both this time, and during the previous round of cancer, conversations have become more meaningful, family time a higher priority and understanding the purpose God has for him each and every moment more critical than ever before.
While no one would invite a wildfire, or wish it upon another, the trials of life, just as with wildfires, bring focus and perspective. They are part of the created order that God uses to renew and restore us.