Ethical Oil: What Happened?

All I can see is smouldering ruins and children crying and a few adults wandering around in a daze.

I went up to a young girl, about ten years old I guess.  "What happened?"

Between sobs, she told me her story.

"Daddy was making fish and chips for dinner. The phone rang and he answered it. He forgot about the hot fat on the stove and it caught fire. He ran to the stove and tried to put out the fire but the cupboard beside the stove was burning. He called 911.

“Five firemen with their chief arrived with their truck. They started to hose down the fire in the kitchen. But they weren't using water to put the fire out. They were using oil!

“Daddy yelled ‘Oil won’t put out the fire … use water, you fools.’

“But the fire chief told him ‘Don't worry, sir - it's ethical oil.’

“Daddy said again ‘But oil won’t put out a fire. You must use water.’ The fire was getting bigger. It was beginning to spread to the dining room.

"’Sorry sir, we must use oil because water costs too much. It is in short supply because so much is needed to extract oil out of the tar sands. We have two grades of oil: ethical from Canada or un-ethical from the Middle East’ said the chief.

“Daddy shouted at the fire chief ‘I don’t care where the oil comes from. I don’t want any oil.‘  He was getting very angry.

“The fire spread to the living room. Daddy told us to run outdoors while he tried to get the fire chief to use water. But the chief kept insisting that Daddy had to choose which oil to use.

“It was so terrible - Mummy ran up to to get my baby brother, Teddy - but everything came crashing down - there was fire and smoke, noise, screaming. They couldn't get out. They died. There was nothing I could do.  Now I am alone. I miss them so much. The fire chief got out through a window before our house burned down.

“After our house burned down it spread to our neighbours’ house. The chief ran to their house and started to spray oil on the outside to keep it cool.  Mister Wong screamed for him to stop using oil but the chief told him that it was all he had.

“The fire spread to the next house and the next and there weren't enough fire trucks. The chief saw that he had made a big mistake and started to use water but by then it was too late. The fire spread to all the houses in the village. Most people died in their homes.

“There used to be about ninety people in our village. Most of the adults died. There are only about fifteen of us now. What are we going to do?"

I tried to comfort her, but what can you say to a child who has lost her whole family and nearly everyone she knows? I couldn’t offer to take her to my home because my village had also burned to the ground. I was homeless too.