Hill fire

A curtain drawn across the Sunday sky
North of the town; a storm that brings no rain
As after weeks of cloudless, breathless dry
The Forest flares in fire once again.
A winter’s-worth of fuel stacked up there:
The brittle sticks of heather, long-dead grass.
A cigarette flipped from a car somewhere;
The sun caught in a shard of shattered glass
And hell breaks loose. As wind-whipped flames take hold
And cursing crews watch fifty acres burn
The hills sleep, sure that to tomorrow’s cold
And blackened aftermath, life will return.
Now I must set my tinder heart ablaze –
To clear the ground for shoots of better days.


Inspired by real events on our walk yesterday afternoon.

8 thoughts on “Hill fire

  1. hi Nick

    The name in the tag: Ash down forest…

    It is a big scare, and horrible, fire in a nature area.
    A few years ago, a big part of the nature here on the island was destroyed by a big fire. The only possitive thing is, that nature restored itself in short time…

    I hope you will keep enjoying being outdoors!

    • LOL – Ashdown Forest is right. About 70 acres (30-odd hectares) went up this time, right next to the site of a similiar fire at the same time two years ago. But fire is part of the natural order, so I’m sure that in a few months, we’ll scarcely know it ever happened. Still wish people wouldn’t be so careless, though! N.x

  2. Nick, the title is exactly right. This is a great sonnet, as usual. Last summer around here we had to buy an air filter because of the constant smoke and pollutants from the great fires than consumed tens of thousands of acres. We were lucky because the forests around us did not burn even though both New Mexico and Arizona seemed consumed by flames.
    The hope in this sonnet is really true, though.
    The hills sleep, sure that to tomorrow’s cold
    And blackened aftermath, life will return.
    And I especially like the idea that
    Now I must set my tinder heart ablaze –
    To clear the ground for shoots of better days.
    The second to last line makes the sonnet larger than just a description of fire and its aftermath. It speaks to how the human spirit, at its very best, is, stirring itself to action out of the tinder of events and then clearing the ground for shoots of better days to come. A new forest will grow out of the blackness and the strong, acidic smells of a newly burned forest. Those new shoots, partially helped along by the tinder inside the human heart, can, hopefully, as your prophesie, even if you did not mean to, lead always to better days.

    • You know, I was thinking of you, out there in the Big Country, as I wrote this. I guess 70-odd acres is pretty small beer compared to the kind of fires you get – they even make the news here sometimes – but the Ashdown Forest is only 6,500 acres altogether, so even a little burn makes a big impact! The Forest is, of course, the setting for Winnie-the-Pooh, and only 40-50 miles from London, so it’s a big tourist spot, and right now is prime fire season, with all the dead stuff from winter still piled high and dry. I think the East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service are going to be busy for the next few weeks. The last two lines took longer to write than the 12 preceding ones, to be honest: they arose from one of my regular (not to say frequent) existential crises, in which I question everything and want to just tear life up and start over in the hope that I’ll get it right next time! I guess it’s about having the courage to strike that match, then stand back and see what happens. As ever, my friend. N.

  3. A sad story, this, and we heard about it ourselves on the news. You describe it very accurately – and I think Thomas Davis has a good point, that there is hope in the sonnet and a wider message at the end.

    • Thank you John – it was a big deal on Sunday, with the police helicopter up from Lewes, as well as fire engines from all over. Those last two lines were really hard; I wanted to come to some sort of resolution or conclusion, not just write a piece of reportage; I’m pleased they seem to have worked. N.

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