The phrase fight fire with fire is an idiom that dates back to the middle 1800s. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. We will examine the definition of the term fight fire with fire, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.
To fight fire with fire means to use the same weapons or tactics that an aggressor is using on you. The connotation is that one is using weapons or tactics that are extreme, or perhaps more injurious than one would usually choose to employ. The phrase fight fire with fire is derived from a literal fire-fighting practice that was popular in the United States during pioneer times. On the frontier, fire fighters were poorly-equipped volunteers. When a prairie fire threatened a new town or a homestead, the pioneers often set a smaller, controlled fire in front of the advancing wildfire. The hope was that the small fire would consume the fuel that the wildfire needed, forcing it to burn itself out. Related phrases are fights fire with fire, fought fire with fire, fighting fire with fire.
When we fight fire with fire: Rudeness can be as contagious as the common cold, research shows (The Washington Post)
While Bathurst High School’s imposing Astley Cup tennis side will land in Orange as red-hot favourites for Thursday’s tie-opening clash, Hornets coach Peita Mages urged her troops to stay confident and fight fire with fire. (Central Western Daily)
In 2007, officials there tried to fight fire with fire by releasing opossums into Brooklyn’s public parks, hoping they would eat the rats. (The South China Morning Post)