Where do the old sayings come from? Who invented them and what do they mean? I used the UK Phrase Finder to see if I could get a handle on the history behind the phrase To Fight Fire With Fire.
Meaning: Respond to an attack by using a similar method as one’s attacker.
Comes from Originally: William Shakespeare (perhaps Henry V)
And the site mentions: The source of this phrase was actual fire-fighting that was taken on by US settlers in the 19th century. They attempted to guard against grass or forest fires by deliberately raising small controllable fires, which they called ‘back-fires’, to remove any flammable material in advance of a larger fire and so deprive it of fuel. This literal ‘fighting fire with fire’ was often successful, although the settlers’ lack of effective fire control equipment meant that their own fires occasionally got out of control and made matters worse rather than better. (read more here)
But why you may ask would I be dwelling on a subject like this? Let me clue you in. Australian Bush Fires, people killed, homes and business destroyed, grassland/farmland burnt to ashes – why did this have to happen?
That question has been plaguing me over the past few years particularly. I am very much aware that Australia is a land of extremes. Don’t try to tell me this is all about so-called manmade global warming – I will not listen to you. I do not believe that is the cause at all. I happen to love Dorothea Mackellar’s poem MY COUNTRY and recognised that fire and flood have been a part of this great nation for a very long time. Just because I can – let me introduce you to my favourite vocal rendition as well – written and performed by Gavin Lockley.
It is well-known and recorded also in the history books – Australia in the summer was prone to bush fires. So today when I received a link to an article discussing the historical relevance and necessity (YES necessity) of bush fires, I knew that my thought patterns were not unusual, and that for eons, nature and the inhabitants of Terra Australis had been fighting fire with fire. That was before we had The Green’s thinking and legislating for us!
A recent report from friends who suffered terrible losses of buildings, fences, pasture and cattle in the Coonabarabran fire commenced with the ominous and oft-repeated message: “a raging fire came out of the National Park straight for us”. (LINK)
There is only one way to limit fire damage – reduce the fuel available.
Fuel load can be reduced in three ways – by grazing animals, by planned small “cool” fires, or by mechanical reduction with slashers, mulchers or dozers.
Australia’s grassland landscape was created and managed by generations of Aborigines who were masters at using man’s most useful tool – fire. Every explorer from Abel Tasman (1642) and Captain Cook (1770) onwards noted the smoke in the sky and the burnt trees whenever they landed. This burning created the open grassland landscapes that dominated pre-European Australia. Aborigines lit fires continually, mainly to keep their fires sticks alight. Their small patchwork fires caused no permanent damage to the environment and fortuitously created and maintained the healthy grasslands and open forests on which many animals and Aborigines depended.
There have been two major changes to the tree/grass balance since European settlement. In the fertile well-watered coastal strip, large areas of thick scrub and open forest were logged and cleared for timber, farms, towns, roads, schools and the domesticated grasses of suburban lawns. Most of those trees have been displaced by those people who now, in ignorance, are also destroying the grasslands and remaining open forests by locking up land and preventing any form of regrowth control. Having destroyed much of the coastal forests and scrubs, they are now destroying the open forests and grasslands.
Misguided tree lovers and green politicians have locked the gates on ever-increasing areas of land for trees, parks, heritage, wilderness, habitat, weekend retreats, carbon sequestration etc. Never before on this ancient continent has anyone tried to ban land use or limit bushfires on certain land.
The short-sighted policy of surrounding their massive land-banks with fences, locked gates, fire bans and exclusion of livestock has created a new alien environment in Australia. They have created tinder boxes where the growth of woody weeds and the accumulation of dead vegetation in eucalypt re-growth create the perfect environment for fierce fires.