They kept spraying water on the wood, but they just couldn't get the fireplace started. The Post wrote the equivalent in an article on the Greek crisis:
"The government has raised taxes and cut services and is announcing tougher steps every other week. So far it has been to no avail; the economic outlook keeps getting worse, not better."
When the government pulls money out of the economy by laying off workers, cutting government workers' pay, and raising taxes, the expected result is a weakened economy. This is exactly what has happened in Greece. It is difficult to understand what the Post meant in saying "to no avail."