The Cross and the Wildfire

There was an e-mail going around with some pretty dramatic photos of a California forest fire that burned in late August. The amazing thing about it was that there was a large monument in the shape of a cross that was enveloped in flames — and yet left untouched.

Gene Blevins of the Los Angeles Daily News photographed the fire in the Big Tujunga Canyon. His work can be seen here.

One person who forwarded the e-mail commented: “Even the firefighters that were near the cross as it was surrounded with flames said it was going to be destroyed. ... The next day Gene Blevins/ photographer went back to the scene to get some more shots and saw that the cross was not even touched, not even scorched from the heat.”

Some people see a sign from God in such phenomena, and that could very well be. But it’s interesting to consider what happens sometimes in wildfires.

Kevin McKee, who has lived through several California wildfires, told me this:

“Wildfires do strange things — it’s common for structures to be left untouched while everything around them is destroyed. I have a friend whose neighbors to the left, to the right and across the street lost their house, yet his (all wood, by the way) was untouched.”

McKee fretted for his own home when a fire bore down on Santa Barbara last year. “Fire tornadoes, hot spots, cold spots, explosions, oxygen depletion zones, all kinds of weird stuff goes on inside one of those firestorms,” he said. “To see something like that [cross] untouched is pretty common, which is probably why it didn’t make much news.”

Nevertheless, no doubt for some local residents, the sight of a cross left standing in the midst of destruction gives hope. It can be a symbol, too, for the rest of us, who worry about all kinds of other destruction — of the moral fabric of our society, for example — and yet the cross is still standing.