I Didn’t Start the Fire!

Posted by admin on March 25, 2013


(written 7/13/11)
I was out walking in my forest one day and discovered a fire. I was the first one there and was allalone. I started throwing water on it as fast as I could. I called in for help, lots of help. The help wouldcome and go and some of the helpers worked hard and did a great job, and some of them tried tohelp and were well intentioned but used the wrong techniques and actually made it worse. I put on fire retardant gear and studied books and websites and talked to experts on forest fires and that all helped. I got better at fighting the fire and made some progress. But then a big gust of wind would come along and feed the flames. I called fire jumpers—experts–and begged them to help. They told me no. Finally I walked around to the other side of the fire and found some other fire jumpers who said they would help. I rejoiced and we all got to work.

I stayed there every single solitary day and fought it day and night for 7 years. I got singed; I inhaled smoke and got ash in my eyes. I fought it and fought it until I was physically exhausted and it nearly killed me. I was forced to take a break from fighting the fire to literally save my own life. So, I stepped back and let some of the other people I had called in “take over.” Two or three days a week I would go back to the fire and help out as best I could, but I was still trying to recover from the injuries I sustained when I was there every day and was still weak and couldn’t help out with the same fervor and dedication that I had. The fire jumpers started asking me questions about why it had grown larger and hotter. I told them that as hard as we were all working the fire still continued to burn, it kept finding more fuel. This was a fire like most of us had never seen before and we could only make educated guesses about how to fight it. Then, some of the help I brought in found more help and brought them to help, too. The helper I didn’t know started asking more questions and accusing me of making the fire worse because I took a break to save my own life and said I was making the fire worse by not being there every day and not fighting it with the fervor and dedication she thought I should—but she didn’t know the whole story.

Then, the fire jumpers who came in to help told me they wanted me to leave the fire fighting and never come back. Even though I had made lots of progress and brought in cutting edge fire fighting equipment and did every single thing I could think of and was more dedicated to fighting the fire than anyone and stayed with the fire far longer than anyone else, they wanted me to throw in the towel and let them figure it out without my help. They actually insisted I leave! They said they had a plan for putting out the fire—or at least for maintaining it, but they said they had seen me fan the flames! They said I was making the fire worse!

Yes, there was a new lead fire fighter who was dedicated to putting it out and she had done a great job for a year and a half, but she wasn’t there in the beginning, she didn’t find it and she didn’t nearly get killed trying to put it out. If it wasn’t for me none of them would be there working to put out this fire—all of them were there and dedicated to this fire being extinguished because of me.

The very first helper I enlisted stayed by my side for 6 years and finally just couldn’t take the heat any more and felt he had no choice but to abandon the fire. He was strong and dedicated for 6 years and when he left he took several others helpers with him and that hurt our efforts—but he had to do it—he couldn’t take the heat—he felt he had no choice. The heat bothered me too, but I said to myself, “too bad, suffer, this is important!” There’s a limited number of fire fighters, there’s a limit to how much funding we can get to pay the fire jumpers and they don’t work for free for the most part.

I spent thousands of dollars of my own money trying to get help to the fire. I even neglected my friendships and my marriage and lost my house to fighting this fire. I gave until I had nothing left to give but kept going back to help. Some days I had to crawl or limp to get there, but I did it. Some days I had planned to be there and had to apologize and opt out because I was just too ill from the longterm injuries I had sustained fighting the fire. I knew I was too weak to be of any help and figured the effort would be better off without me in the way. And yet I was criticized mercilessly for being late some days, for not being there at all some days and being held responsible for the fact that the fire still continued to get bigger and hotter even with all the help and resources I brought to it.

Some people would argue that I knew the fire was there and agreed to be responsible for it no matter what and that I should be ashamed of myself for not staying with it every single day. Well, I had no idea what kind of a fire I had found, had no prior experience putting out fires and yet learned as I went and became a great fire fighter. But the fire was bigger than me! I DID accept responsibility for this fire, and even though I could not have known how big and how hot it would get and would never have guessed that some of my recruited helpers would actually accuse me of making the fire worse and ask me to walk away from it, I am still dedicated to putting out this fire!


I love the trees and the plants and the flowers and the rivers and the animals that live beautifully right where the fire burns! I can’t walk away! I won’t walk away and I NEVER FANNED THE FLAMES!!!

Ironic isn’t it, how in addition to finding the fire, bringing tons of help and resources to it, being singed and otherwise injured by it, nearly dying because of my dedication to it and committing myself to the end, that I also get to deal with some of my recruited helpers—including the expert fire jumpers—speaking poorly of me behind my back, plotting to take me away from the fire, accusing me of making the fire worse! How could I after 7 years of full-time, unrelenting dedication to fighting this fire possibly even think about making it worse? I haven’t the slightest idea of doing so. I felt horribly guilty about having to take a break!

What they don’t understand is that even though I didn’t plant the forest where the fire was started, it was given to me, entrusted to me for its care for as long as I live and it is the most beautiful forest I have ever seen! I love everything about that forest and every day I worry about the damage that’s being done to it by the fire. I refuse to let the fire totally destroy the glorious forest! I will keep talking, and recruiting and bringing resources and proving my dedication until every single fire jumper and helper believe and know that I am this forest’s number one advocate and I will not waiver even though it hurts to be judged, to have assumptions be made about me and to be told to leave. One way or the other, I will persevere! No matter what.


It’s as if they think I started the fire. They know I didn’t, but I get treated like an arsonist anyway—I guess because most of the forest fires they’ve come in contact with are started by arsonists. That may be true, but it doesn’t make me one. I’m innocent; I found the fire that somebody else started. I wish they’d stop treating me like an arsonist—I haven’t yet figured out how to convince them that I’m not to blame for this fire, but I will not give up trying.


~ Shelley Calissendorff, Foster-Adoptive Mother to one daughter and the love of my life. (visit her facebook page Preserve Families with RAD children NOW)

Comments Welcome

Posted by kelly on
Beautifully stated. Thanks for articulating what's been on my heart.
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