The Best Songs About Fire

Songs are written to express what we often find impossible to say in another way. We do this literally and through symbols, which makes the elements, earth, air, water and fire, favorites of song writers. And, of these, fire is the one that most often shows up in song. Warmth can bring comfort and flames can leave scars, which opens up a wide range for storytellers.  

There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of songs that make reference to fire. Just a few of the more well-known songs about fire are:

“Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash

“Set Fire to The Rain” by Adele

“Fire” by Jimi Hendrix

“Fire” by Bruce Springsteen

“Fire” by The Pointer Sisters

“Light My Fire” by The Doors

“We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel

“Into The Fire” by Sarah McLachlan

“Fire and Rain” by James Taylor

The list could easily go on and on. Some lesser-known songs about fire become more well-known as time passes and similar tragedies occur.

James Keelaghan wrote “Cold Missouri Waters” about the Mann Gulch Fire of 1949 in which 13 firefighters died. Most of them belonged to a team of smokejumpers who parachuted into the area only to be almost immediately cut off from any escape route by unexpectedly high winds. Within minutes, a “blow-up” of the fire covered 3,000 acres in less than ten minutes. One smokejumper, Wagner Dodge, made a desperate attempt to survive by creating an escape fire. He tried to get the others to do the same but they ran for other cover instead. Dodge dove into the middle of the charred area the fire left and prayed.

The final two verses of the song tell the story:

Sky had turned red, smoke was boiling
Two hundred yards to safety, death was fifty yards behind
I don’t know why I just thought it
I struck a match to waist high grass running out of time
Tried to tell them, Step into this fire I set
We can’t make it, this is the only chance you’ll get
But they cursed me, ran for the rocks above instead
I lay face down and prayed above the cold Missouri waters

And when I rose, like the phoenix
In that world reduced to ashes there were none but two survived
I stayed that night and one day after
Carried bodies to the river, wonder how I stayed alive
Thirteen stations of the cross to mark to their fall
I’ve had my say, I’ll confess to nothing more
I’ll join them now, because they left me long before
Thirteen crosses high above the cold Missouri waters
Thirteen crosses high above the cold Missouri shore

There are songs about fires that actually happened but were less dramatic and tragic than “Cold Missouri Waters”. The English rock band, Deep Purple, witnessed a fire that was started during a Frank Zappa concert when a fan fired a flare gun at the ceiling. The venue, a casino, was totally destroyed, along with all of Zappa’s musical equipment. Deep Purple members, Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Gillan, Roger Glover, Jon Lord and Ian Anderson Paice then wrote the song “Smoke on the Water” about the experience:

We all came out to Montreux
On the Lake Geneva shoreline
To make records with a mobile
We didn’t have much time
Frank Zappa and the Mothers
Were at the best place around
But some stupid with a flare gun
Burned the place to the ground

Smoke on the water, fire in the sky
Smoke on the water

They burned down the gambling house
It died with an awful sound
Funky Claude was running in and out
Pulling kids out the ground
When it all was over
We had to find another place
But Swiss time was running out
It seemed that we would lose the race

Smoke on the water, fire in the sky
Smoke on the water

Then there are the songs that tell about the courage and sacrifice of real life, modern day firefighters. “The Firefighter Song” was written by New York State firefighter, Paul Cummings, after responding to a fatal fire that occurred shortly after the birth of his daughter. He wrote the song for himself in an effort to try and make sense of the tragedy and reconcile his duties on the job with those at home. Cummings never intended for the song to be made public, but once a few of the firefighters in his company heard it, the song became a hit. The final chorus is a good representation of what was going through his head after that fire:

And they don’t want any money
For the things they train to do
They help the ones in need
And they see the whole job through
Well aware of the costs, That it takes to save a life
But that doesn’t matter, To the ones they are inside
We all need to sing, Yeah we all need to sing
We all need to sing, that firefighter’s song
And we all need to pray, cause that firefighter’s gone