One of the most direct ways to employ fire's destructive associations in fiction is to make the fire itself evil — or at least actively and consciously destructive — by simply having flames actually come to life. These flames will then run around and try to burn down the surrounding area, whether it's a forest, a building, or anything else. They may or may not have faces, voices, or personalities aside from wanting to burn things, but even if they do their goals will generally be limited to, or at least heavily themed around, setting things on fire.
A common way for this trope to be employed originated in older western cartoons, although it is not limited to them. In this form, living flames are often little motes of fire, like candle flames, with stubby little legs and no other features; they are often created by large, preexisting fires, budding from or hopping out of the larger blazes and trying to set even more things ablaze. More often than not, they're less individual creatures in their own right and more extensions of a wildfire's destructive potential and resiliency to attack, and other characters will be free to put them out en masse without moral quandaries being raised. Their natural enemies are firemen, who will often have to go through several comical misadventures to put out marauding flames. This is more part of the cartoony comedy that features things like inanimate objects acting like sapient beings simply to torment the characters without any further explanation.
Another common depiction of this trope, more popular in video games, is to show the living fires as small, floating flames with no features save for eyes. Rather than burning things — although they may still do that — they are typically focused on directly harming the player character. They are often endemic to the Lethal Lava Land, heat-themed Hailfire Peaks and other levels where lava and fire are plentiful.
Regardless of the type, these things may also be created when someone is Playing with Fire.
Fortunately, you can usually stop them with water.
Subtrope of Evil Is Burning Hot and Elemental Embodiment. See also Sinister Sentient Sun, which is basically this in a planetary scale, and Hitodama Light, which looks like floating fireballs but is actually something more ghostly. Compare and contrast Murder Water.
- The Divine Comedy: False counselors are damned to suffer forever not in fire, but as fires. These liars can no more speak with their silver-tongues, but must writhe their flame-tips back and forth to poorly imitate organic speech.
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: This is essentially the point of the Fiendfyre spell, which takes the forms of several monsters while wrecking the Room of Requirement. These evil flames are extremely dangerous and difficult to control for the caster, as Crabbe learns the hard way.
- The Thebaid: In the final book, the funeral fires of Oedipus' sons inherit the hatred of their corpses and battle each other in a ungodly display.
- Pathfinder: Mythic fire elementals are described as living fragments of the first flames of the Elemental Plane of Fire, and greatly enjoy scattering flammable mortal foes to set them alight one by one.
- Warhammer 40,000 & Warhammer: Age of Sigmar both have daemons of Tzeentch called Brimstone Horrors, which take the form of small and malicious living flames.
- Commander Keen: In the fourth game, living fire monsters roam in the Isle of Fire level, throwing fire constantly. They cannot be defeated or even stunned, only avoided.
- The game parodies and homages this trope alongside several others from classic cartoons. During one phase of his battle, Grim Matchstick opens his mouth and stretches out his tongue, and a marching band of flames walks out.
- A variety more in line with the video game enemy variety — that is, flames with a face but no limbs — are among the enemies found in Rugged Ridge, where they float in circles in the air while cackling nastily.
- Digimon: The Meramon line is heavily based on this concept. The earliest form, Mokumon, is a cloud of smoke with a small flame flickering from its top. The next stage, DemiMeramon, is a flying fireball with a face noted for its aggressive temperament. DemiMeramon evolves into Candlemon, a living candle with a DemiMeramon for its flame, which in turn becomes Meramon, a humanoid made out of fire. Meramon is stated to have a violent temper, enough so to be likely to turn even on its tamer, and to try to burn everything it touches.
- Donkey Kong 64: Flames are an enemy resembling a ball of fire with feet and sunglasses. They only appear one level where where Lanky Kong has to fight them off while they try to reach a barrel of TNT and make it explode, with the walking fireballs cackling when get close to the explosives.
- Dragon Quest: Dancing flames, roughly humanoid creatures made of fire, are recurring monsters in the series.
- Final Fantasy V features Liquid Flame, the guardian of the Fire Crystal. It's a creature made entirely out of fire that starts the battle in a humanoid form, but can also change shape to resemble either a hand or a fiery tornado, giving it different attacks and weaknesses.
- In the arcade game Guzzler, living flames chase the player around the mazes, and the player has to extinguish them with water absorbed from puddles.
- Kirby: Bobos and their King Mook, the mid-boss Boboo, are living fireball enemies with legs.
- Mega Man (Classic): Changkeys look like fireballs with eyes, but, like all other enemies, they're actually robots.
- Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale: Will-'o-wisps are made to hunt down adventurers who stay too long in dungeons, being described by Tear as "flaming ball[s] arcing with electricity", and "incorporeal balls of fire and hate".
- Super Mario Bros.: Living fireballs of various descriptions have hounded Mario throughout his games:
- Donkey Kong: The first Mario game of all is also the first to feature such enemies, in the form of fireballs with eyes that hop out of burning oil drums and chase after Mario as he tries to reach Donkey Kong.
- Debuting in Super Mario Bros., Lava Bubbles (also called Podoboos) are living fireballs with no features besides simple eyes, which often act as hazards in fire-themed levels. They're usually passive — most appearance just have them jumping in and out of lava, only hurting Mario if he runs into them — but the RPG games such as Super Mario RPG and the Paper Mario series have them as more aggressive enemies that actively attack Mario and resemble floating candle flames. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door also has Embers, evil blue flames related to Lava Bubbles that act as minions to the undead pirate Cortez.
- Super Mario Bros. 2 has a boss version with Fryguy, a living flame entity that constantly spreads fire through its chamber. It's also an Asteroids Monster as, once it's hit three times with Mushroom Blocks, it will split into four smaller sentient embers that chase the player's character, and for each of them defeated the remaining ones will move faster.
- Super Mario Bros. 3 introduces two enemies of this kind:
- Fire Snakes are linked fireballs (with the biggest one having eyes and acting as the "head") that hop slowly but constantly towards Mario or Luigi. They appear in the desert levels, and can only be defeated with a Starman or a large projectile (Koopa Shell or Hammer).
- Hot Foots are a kind of fire-based enemy resembling a living flame, found in later fortresses. They normally wait in candles, but when one of the brothers comes close the flame will hop off the candle, sprout legs and try to run into the brother in question to damage him, standing still if the player turns to look at it.
- In Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster's Hidden Treasure, in the Lava Cave, anthropomorphic flames (from the short "When You're Hot..." from the TV series episode "Going Places") appear as enemies.
- The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3: A Hot Foot, a kind of fire enemy resembling an orange flame with feet, appears in one episode. It hides inside a candle flame, and when Mario and Luigi come near it jumps out and starts chasing them.
- Betty Boop: Such flames appear in several old cartoons such as "Bimbo's Initiation" and "Red Hot Mama". In "Bimbo's Initiation", Bimbo gets trapped beneath a heavy, spiked weight, hanging from a single rope, with a lit candle threatening to burn it. Bimbo tries to blow out the candle, but the flame sprouts legs, jumps onto the rope, and does a little dance there before burning through it.
- Classic Disney Shorts:
- In "Mickey's Fire Brigade", Mickey, Donald and Goofy are firemen trying to put out a fire. The flames sprout legs and act as if alive, forcing Donald to chase them down, closing a window to keep the water from the hose from coming in and even nabbing Donald's fire axe and chasing him around with it.
- "Pluto's Judgement Day": In the climax of Pluto's dream, he is suspended over a blazing pit of fire. Soon, tiny anthropomorphic flames hop out of the pit, run along the rope and try to pull it apart to make him fall in.
- Silly Symphonies:
- "Flowers and Trees": When the evil tree tries to burn down the forest out of jealousy over the protagonist tree getting the girl, the fire is represented as little impish flames chasing the forest's denizens around and setting things alight. They're put out when a flock of birds starts up a rainstorm, but not before the flames tackle the evil tree, killing him.
- In "Elmer Elephant", after being bullied for his unusual appearance, Elmer finds a good use for his trunk when Tillie Tiger's house catches fire. The flames chase Tillie and the other animals around, but are thwarted when Elmer arrives and shoots the flames with water, although one flame manages to dodge the blasts of water a few times before getting put out.
- In "Moth and the Flame", a female moth sees a flame on a candle, which comes to life and tries to grab her. The flame soon sets fire to the costume shop, leading a male moth to try to put out the fire himself, then call in reinforcements when his efforts turn out to be futile.
- Futurama: "The Inhuman Torch" features one of these as the main villain. It's an extraterestial being of pure solar energy named Flamo, whom the Planet Express crew accidentally brings back to Earth after a visit to a helium mining facility on the sun and who spends the episode trying to turn the Earth into a new, incandescent sun for him to rule over.
- Looney Tunes:
- Throughout "Porky the Fireman", portions of the fire Porky is helping to fight come alive and antagonize the firefighters. One fiery figure steals a bucket of water from Porky and dumps it on his head, while another mocks a team of firemen as they try to hose it down. At the end, after the building has burnt to the ground, one last anthropomorphic flame peeks from the rubble and gets doused by dozens of firemen at once... before popping back up from the ashes, knocking all the firemen down with a hose used like a gatling gun, and victoriously beating its chest as the screen fades to black.
- They also appear in the 1936 short "Fish Tales" in Porky's Dream Sequence, trying to keep him contained in a cooking pot as he's roasted alive in an oven.
- The New Adventures of Superman: In "The Fire Phantom", a living flame from Earth's core appears and sets off a mammoth forest fire. The living flame is a giant version of the classic "living candle flame mote", and has no intelligence or personality except for causing fire and destruction wherever it goes.
- In the Tex Avery cartoon "Red Hot Rangers", an anthropomorphized flame comes out of a discarded cigarette and goes around the forest burning things, while forest rangers George and Junior try to stop him.
- Screen Songs: "The Big Flame-Up" features a little fire sprite who thwarts the efforts of the fire department and invites the audience to sing along. He later reappears in the Popeye short "Fireman's Brawl", fighting Popeye's attempts to put out a fire.
- SpongeBob SquarePants: In "Procrastination", during SpongeBob's dream sequence, a candle flame comes to life, reads SpongeBob's unfinished essay disapprovingly, then decides to punish him by burning down his house.
- Tiny Toon Adventures: In the short "When You're Hot...", in the episode "Going Places", Buster, Plucky, and Hamton's efforts to put out the fire at ACME Looniversity are impeded by an anthropomorphic flame interfering with their progress. The flame does such things as fill their water buckets with gasoline, pose as a lady in peril only to burn their fire engine's wooden ladder, and even burn the film strip Hamton is on when he corners him in the Tiny Toons film library. When the fire is eventually put out thanks to Li'l Sneezer's trademark Sneeze of Doom, the flame escapes and makes a break for Universal Studios, only to get hugged by Elmyra, causing him to burst and burn her clothes off.