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The Greatest Books Ever Written About Fire

By: Sebastian Junger

Sebastian Junger rocketed to fame with his bestseller “The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea ” and he quickly established himself as one of the top adventure writers on the literary scene. “Fire” is a collection of essays and dispatches from dangerous locales all over the world. However, only one concerns wildland firefighting. But it’s a good one. Junger has a talent for writing about adventurous men without sounding like a fanboy, or over exagerating their jobs. I don’t think he uses the word “heroes” once in his essay, which is fine by me. For a guy without any fire experience, he does a damn fine job of capturing the heart of a hotshot crew. If I had a rating system, (which I don’t) I would give this one four flaming pulaskis.


Young Men and Fire

By: Norm MacLean

Norm MacLean is an icon in American Literature. He wrote the epic short story “A River Runs Through It ” – which is fantastic reading, even if hooking up on rainbow trout isn’t your bag. In this book, MacLean provides a meticulous post-mortem of one of the worst tragedies to ever hit the firefighting community. In 1949, the Mann Gulch fire ripped through the Helena National Forest in Montana and claimed the lives of 12 smokejumpers.

The book examines in painstaking detail the many factors that led up to the tragedy, and they’re lessons that any hotshot would be wise to learn. An absolute must-read.


Fire on the Mountain: The True Story of the South Canyon Fire

By: John N. MacLean

Like his father before him, John MacLean is fascinated by forest fires in the American West. In this critically-acclaimed investigation of the South Canyon Fire (often referred to as the Storm King Fire) he pieces together a haunting narrative of how a grave series of mistakes ultimately led to the deaths of 14 firefighters on July 6, 1994. Nine members of the Prineville Hotshots lost their lives, along with three Missoula Smokejumpers and two helitack crewmembers. I’ve had the opportunity to visit the memorial trail on Storm King Mountain twice, and it’s simply a sobering experience. Walking the handline where the Prineville Hotshots and the Missoula Smokejumpers perished, and seeing the memorials marking where each firefighter fell was gut-wrenching. I had read “Fire on the Mountain” prior to visiting, and then read it again after. That allowed me to gain a much clearer perspective on what went wrong on that terrible day.


Jumping Fire: A Smokejumper’s Memoir of Fighting Wildfire

By: Murray Taylor

Murray Taylor was still jumping out of planes and fightin’ fire when he was 50 years old. If that doesn’t qualify as badass, I’m not sure what does.This autobiography takes you into the adrenaline-soaked, shenanigan-loving world of Alaskan Smokejumpers. Taylor spent over twenty years was a smokejumper, and he shares everything, from the personal toll his career took on relationships, to epic stories of fighting fire at the top of the world. While the writing can be a little rough at points, Taylor is a great story-teller, and by the end, you’ll be seriously considering putting an app in to be an AK jumper.


The Thirtymile Fire: A Chronicle of Bravery and Betrayal

By John N. MacLean

Another great piece of nonfiction by John N. MacLean. There’s a saying about history being repeated by those who fail to learn the lessons of the past, and sadly this book proves the veracity of those words. The Thirty Mile Fire started off as an escaped campfire in the Okanogan National Forest in Washington and grew quickly on a day that saw temperatures pushing 100 degrees. Four firefighters were killed after their escape route was overrun and their last-ditch efforts to deploy their fire shelters failed. Written in typical MacLean style, this book provides a much deeper and thorough explanation of the accident than the brief mention it is usually given during refresher training at the beginning of the season.


Fire and Ashes: On the Front Lines of American Wildfire

By John N. MacLean

National Geographic Adventurer Magazine has dubbed John N. MacLean “The Bob Woodward of Forest Fires…the nation’s chief chronicler of the misjudgments, equipment failures, and accumulating gaffes that lead to tragedy on the fire line.” I think that’s a fairly accurate assessment. In this book, which is composed of two long and two short essays, he focuses on two fairly unknown fires: the 1953 Rattlesnake Fire, and the 1999 Sadler Fire. Like all his books, his incredible ability to tell a story makes this a fascinating read. After finishing this book, I came to the conclusion that John N. Maclean would probably be one of the most interesting guys to drink a beer with over a campfire.



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