On The Page: Fire On The Mountain

Edit: This post was written last week but just this morning I learned of the deaths of nineteen firefighters who were fighting the Yarnell Hill fire north of Wickenburg, Arizona. The firefighters were members of the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshots, part of the Prescott Fire Department. The wind shifted forcing the firefighters to deploy their fire shelters. Thinking good thoughts for the families of these firefighters as well as thinking about firefighters throughout the west.

My latest read was Fire on the Mountain: The True Story of the South Canyon Fire. The South Canyon Fire took place in July of 1994 just east of Grand Junction, Colorado. (This is only about an hour and half north of us.) I found the book a little hard to get started on, something that often happens to me in non-fiction as I try to match names with roles in the beginning, but once I got started I was hooked. How do you put down a book where you know that things are going to go sideways?

The handling of the South Canyon Fire was botched from the start and Maclean takes a long look at the politics and mismanagement that lead to the fire growing from a smalllightning strike fire into a blaze that claimed the lives of fourteen firefighters.

Interestingly, the South Canyon Fire had many similarities to the Mann Gulch fire of 1949. John Maclean’s father, Norman Maclean, wrote about the Mann Gulch fire in his landmark book Young Men and Fire. Both fires burned in steep, “funnel like” gulches near large rivers (the Colorado and the Missouri). The fires were burning under extremely hot weather conditions with winds expected to pick up on the day of the blow up with firefighters cutting a fire line above the fire.

While Fire on the Mountain definitely had my attention, it didn’t seem particularly well written to me. If you’re interested in wildfires (or wildfire history), Colorado history, or like a simple fast paced non-fiction read, this might be a good choice for you.

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