I finished this book just before the fire in Yarnell, Arizona which took the lives of 19 Hot Shot firefighters. I felt is was so ironic that I had just made it through the story of fire fighters losing their lives in 1910 and now my heart was heavy, heavy for those who had just lost their life in 2013. I picked up this book from the clearance table at Barnes and Noble. I really enjoyed Timothy Egan's The Worst Hard Time and thought this one sounded interesting as well.
In August 1910, a gigantic forest fire ripped through the northern mountains of Idaho, Washington, and Montana. Over 100 firefighters lost their lives and other fighters and forest personal carried scars for life. Many towns such as Wallace, Idaho above were destroyed as trains carrying survivors tried to beat the flames.
It took years for the forests to return as hundreds of thousands of acres of forests were burnt by giant flames fanned by 80 mile per hour winds. Historians call it the biggest forest fire ever.
Firefighters sought shelter in mining tunnels such as this one, creek beds, dirt cellars, and pits of their own digging. This worked for some but not all. Even in the tunnels, oxygen was sucked out and replaced by hot gases causing asphyxiation. Ed Pulaski, forest ranger, saved many of his men in this tunnel although suffering many wounds himself both physical and emotional. He fought the government unsuccessfully for years for compensation and help for his men. Pulaski also invented a firefighting tool, a combination of hoe and ax, which is still in use today.
This is the famous tunnel today. The book is also about the formation of the Forest Service under Teddy Roosevelt, the first forest rangers, how little they were supported by the government or the general public, and of course, the management of forest fires.
Earlier this summer I heard that this year's fire season would be the worst in 100 years. Now I know how truly bad it was those 100 years ago.
As I finished my book, flames roared their ugly heads in my beloved Arizona as the summer giant winds blew and changed direction.
Yesterday, 19 white hearses carried them home to Prescott from the medical examiners office in Phoenix. Rest in Peace and may your loved ones be comforted.