Fire metaphors come in two guises. The first are metaphors that explain the behaviors of fires, such as “it conquered”, “it retreated”, “it tickled”. These metaphors usually employ personification to create a vivid image in the mind. The second utilize the traits of fires to explain unrelated things, like “a burning rash” or love being “an eternal flame”.
Both types of metaphors are employed to help create more vivid images in a person’s mind. They can be used by writers to explain the behavior of a conflagation in their storyline. But they are also employed by public health experts, doctors, and teachers to more effectively describe everyday things by analogizing them to fires.
Below are 17 great fire metaphors you can use today.
1. Fire is Life
This metaphor is used to explain that without fire, people cannot live (or at least, would have a very much altered life!). You might hear this metaphor on an episode of Survivor, for example, to explain the first few days of the game when the characters don’t yet have flint. The players are cold, cannot cook their rice, and usually feel deflated.
When they get flint, they can have cookouts, dry their clothes, and feel they have a new life in the game.
Here, the metaphor doesn’t say that fire and life are literally the same thing. Rather, it’s to say that it is so important that it is analogous to life.
2. The Fire Conquered or ‘Decimated’
A wildfire that burns across an entire landscape might be personified as a warrior who won a war or battle against the landscape. While ‘decimation’ or ‘devastation’ might not be metaphorical, to say that it ‘decimated’ or ‘conquered’ is to give agency and human traits to a non-sentient phenomenon.
3. There is a Fire in my Belly
A person who is motivated and determined is said to have fire in their belly (or stomach). It implies there is something within us that is ‘raging’ and motivating us to keep on going when times are getting tough. We might use this metaphor when talking about a fierce competitor in a competition or a determined scientist who is relentless in their efforts to achieve a scientific breakthrough.
This metaphor could be used to describe the protagonist in your story who might be out to get revenge or strongly motivated by their personal convictions.
4. My Love is an Eternal Flame
To say that love is an ‘eternal flame’ is to say that it will never end. You can imagine a flame that just cannot go out no matter what. They have endless ‘fuel’ for their flame.
We consider it to be a metaphor because clearly there isn’t a real flame flickering away in your heart. We’re using analogy here because there is similarity: fire is red and feels like a visual representation of passion!
This metaphor is very similar to the one above as both imply that something inside of us is acting like a flame (but, of course, we say it is as a way to rhetorically strengthen the analogy).
5. Fire is my Friend
Humans have a love-hate relationship with fire. It gives us heat, warmth and light. But it can also destroy our homes if we don’t have control over it. So to consider fire to be your friend is to talk about its positive aspects. You might call it your friend if you’re starved of it and in need of its warmth at night.
Of course, it can’t be your friend – it’s not a sentient thing! But because of the comfort it can offer you, it feels like your friend (although, if you were to say ‘feels like’ you’d be in the territory of simile … oh, and it wouldn’t be as rhetorically satisfying).
6. The Wildfire Races up the Hill
Here’s another example of personification that we’ll often use when wildfires are approaching a house. Wildfires of course don’t have legs so they don’t ‘run’ and they’re not in a race against anything! But because wildfires tend to move uphill so incredibly fast, especially when fueled by dead grass, a warm day, and a strong wind, it feels like it’s in a rush. So we might say that it runs, races or even chases as it moves at such speed.
7. Run into the Blaze
We often say that firefighters run into flames. Of course, they’re not literally running into them. But they are running toward them in order to prevent them from spreading. It’s obviously a heroic action that we all respect and admire because they’re putting their lives on the line to protect us.
But this metaphor has become idiomatic and used out of context. For example, healthcare workers might “run into the blaze” when they go to work to prevent the spread of a pandemic. Police officers might run into the blaze when they intervene in dangerous situations, and soldiers might stand up to the blaze when they go off to war.
8. The Raging Inferno
We use the adjective ‘raging’ so often when we talk about flames that we might not even realize that we’re using a metaphor here. But rage is something usually associated with human anger. So when we talk about raging flames, we’re assigning them a human trait: anger! This is because sometimes they burn so fiercely that they remind us of a person being in a fit of uncontrollable rage. You can see that we usually use the term ‘inferno’ for this metaphor because infernos are the type of strong, uncontrollable fire that is analogous to rage.
9. The Flames Licked and Tickled
By contrast to a raging inferno, tickling flames are much more tame. They might ‘lick’ or ‘tickle’ because they appear to occasionally leap up a few inches, but in general they are low, flickering, controlled flames. This is a term we’ll commonly associate with an indoor fireplace that’s burning in a controlled, comfortable way. This licking and tickling effect can be pleasant and is the sort of fire effect that we might enjoy looking at for hours on end.
10. The Rash Flared Up
A rash that flares up is one that has gotten very red and potentially even spread. People with hives will be familiar with this: suddenly they have a red rash that is itchy and even feels hot all over them after being exposed to an allergen.
While generally only fires ‘flare’ (which we might define as a bright flash of flame and light), we can imagine a rash to be imitating the flaring behaviors of a fire when it spreads rapidly and begins to feel hot.
11. I’m Burned Out
To be burned out is to be exhausted to the point that you can’t continue to do something. Burnout is a common phenomenon among people who are doing something tirelessly for a long period of time. School students studying for their final exams might burn out, and so too might athletes who train relentlessly for a long time.
This metaphor comes from the idea that there is no more fuel left for a fire, so it goes out. But idiomatically, we use the term regularly to refer to the idea that there’s no fuel left in our bodies to continue to do something that has exhausted us mentally or physically.
12. Light a Fire Under Someone
The saying “to light a fire under someone” refers to circumstances where one person does something to cause another person to get active. A parent might pull the sheets off from a teenager who sleeps in too late to force them to leap out of bed, or a teacher might tell a student they will be kicked out of class if they don’t get a B on an exam. These actions cause someone else to get active right away.
This is a form of extrinsic motivation (someone else forcing you to take action) rather than the internal flame, which we consider intrinsic motivation (you taking action out of personal desire).
13. Fire has a Mind of its Own
This is another example of personification. Of course flames don’t have a mind, but we say they do to convey that sense that they do whatever they feel like doing. They can’t be controlled and will move wherever they want.
14. Wall of Flames
This metaphor is very common when describing the front line of a wildfire or a structural inferno. Firefighters sometimes have to run through tall blazing flames, for example, to get out of a building. In these instances, it appears that there is a wall of flames in front of you. Of course, there isn’t a wall there, but it feels like it’s a solid, impenetrable wall because it seems so impossible to run through and there doesn’t even seem to be a hole or break in that “wall” to escape.
15. Trail Blazers
A trail blazer is someone who is the first to do something. For example (and we’re getting a little more literal here), you might be the first person to mark out a new hiking trail. You’ve now set the trail for others to follow in your place. The ‘blazing’ aspect is where the fire metaphor comes in. Nothing, of course, was ‘blazed’ per se, but just like a fire is the first thing to move through a forest (and burn it out so others can come behind and easily pass through), the trail blazer is the first person to move down a trail.
The incredible importance of fire to our lives and human history can account for how many fire metaphors there are. And I’m sure I’ve missed many (can you think of some others?) They have swept their way into our language to help us explain everything from rashes to love, anger and passion. For more on how fire has become a part of our lives and language, read up on the symbolism of fire.