Forest Fires


Stephen Ellwood stood amongst the cinders of the protest camp. Twisted metal branches grew out of the square’s concrete floor without skins. No one knew the cause of the night’s inferno, although several theories had all ready been put forward. A CCTV camera filmed a suited passer-by throwing a cigarette stub towards an overflowing bin. Doubts existed in many that had seen the footage if the fire started in the bin, or if the end landed next to a nylon groundsheet waiting to be caught. Stephen suspect that this narrative of accident without deliberate malice would be the official story.

Another theory, voiced by a hostile media, said that the blaze started inside a tent with the careless use of a camping stove. They always mentioned after the accusation it could have malfunctioned. Survivors refuted this, although Stephen kept it open as a possibility.

Police intelligence possessed evidence that a group within the camp might have attempted to martyr themselves as a human sacrifice on the doorstep of the stock exchange. This, in Stephen’s estimation, remained on the far edge of probability until more evidence could be sifted from the ashes.

Stephen walked around the outlines of tents. The screen erected around the square flapped with the gentle breeze. He held his face mask tighter against his mouth, aware that the grains blowing against his skin might be human. His own theory, unvoiced and without anything more than anecdotal evidence, was that like the economic system the camp once fought, they had grown too big, too fast. Because social systems grew like forests the probability of destructive ruination increased over time. Stephen did not like his theory, it kept him awake at nights. When he made the correlation between markets and protesters on the drive into London he nearly crashed his BMW into the motorway’s central reservation.

A charred arm outstretched and trapped in the instant its owner tried to escape from their burning home crunched underfoot. Stephen’s insides inverted. He removed his leather shoe from the broken radius and ulna, and searched for an exit from the barbecued camp site.

The only comfort he drew from his theory was that after fires well managed forests regrew quickly.

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