The first article I ever wrote for a Pagan magazine described my attribution of the four common natural fibers to elemental correspondences, in which I spoke about wool corresponding to elemental Water. There’s good reason for that. When exposed to flame, wool ignites reluctantly, the char spreads slowly, and tends to self-extinguish. These facts were used in early 20th-century quality-control textile testing of wool fabrics, according to the 1942 industrial Encyclopedia of Textiles. Every householder knew those fact before the days of synthetic fiber and central heating.
Historic home traditions in fire-fighting and fire prevention may puzzle the millennial generation. A hearthrug, as its name says, was a rug laid before the hearth or hearthstone. Modern dictionary definitions merely state that their purpose was to protect the floor—if your home had a floor made of wood—a luxury in many cottage households, while earthen floors were commonplace. Back to the wood floor; sparks jumping outward from the hearth fire, which served to cook food, make tea, and warm the home, were a commonplace event that marred the precious wood floor. Hearthrugs were made of wool. And wool does not like to burn! A hearthrug, whether an intact sheepskin, a fancy woolen weaving, or a home-made rag rug that used the scraps and rags of worn-out wool clothing, lay where the sparks from an open cook-fire might leap, and extinguish any opportunistic flames that tried to take hold.
Home fire-fighting equipment consisted of a bucket of sand (not water) and old blankets—no one in the 19th century felt any need to specify that blankets were made of wool. In the 1960s, during my childhood, Army surplus blankets—those olive-drab green remnants of WWII oversupply—were a few layers of the bedrolls my mother taught me how to make. (The family went camping with them in the southeastern California desert, in Joshua Tree National Park, and among the giant sequoia of the southern Sierras as we began to learn the environment on the far side of the continent from our origins.) By the time we lived in northern California, I recognized the value of that traditional fire-fighting technique, when dog-day grass fires saw every able bodied adult grabbing a blanket or throw rug as they ran towards the edges of the fire to contain & control it long before the local all-volunteer fire department arrived. Wool blankets, wool area rugs, wool horse blankets. Emergency equipment on ranches, farms, homesteads, and more. (Note: Don’t try this with just any blanket today—synthetic fibers can flare, stick to human skin, and retain heat long after active flame is gone.)