Three fiery reads

  In the sixth chapter of his newly released book The Seasons of Fire, David J. Strohmaier pens an articulate elegy for the firefighters who died in Colorado's 1994 South Canyon Fire. When Strohmaier traveled to the fatality site, "it had been only six weeks since the fire, but already thousands of small, light-green Gambel oak shoots had groped their way up through the talcum-like ash.


"Close by," the former BLM firefighter continues, "were a dozen heavy-gauge spikes driven into the ground," each marking the spot where a firefighter died. He muses, "The presence of both, rooted in the ash next to each other, hints, however dimly, at possible moral dimensions of fire ..."


Strohmaier's is one of three new books that hint not only at fire's moral dimensions, but also at its spiritual, emotional and cultural aspects. It is a very personal work, based on years of chasing fire in the wilds of central Oregon's Deschutes and John Day River drainages. In the tradition of Aldo Leopold's Sand County Almanac and Rick Bass' Winter, Strohmaier meditates on the seasonal rhythms of a landscape - in this case, one shaped by the unbending force of fire.


Strohmaier, one of wildland fire's seasoned hands, recalls the near-evangelical message of early firefighter training films, namely that "green is good and black is bad." By the 1990s, 80-odd years of this sort of evangelism had created an explosion waiting to happen. But what prompted federal land-management agencies to pursue a policy of absolute fire suppression in the first place?


Stephen J. Pyne's new book, Year of the Fires, takes us back to where it all started: the incredible summer of 1910.


Pyne tells the story of the desperate fight against "a vast tsunami of flame" in which more than 2.6 million acres burned in the Northern Rockies alone. The tale centers on two days in August, "The Big Blowup," when high winds fanned flames into massive firestorms that swept northern Idaho (HCN, 4/23/01: The Big Blowup). Pyne paints a gritty picture of those two days' madness, including a series of rescues made by train crews "over trestles already aflame" and ranger Ed Pulaski's legendary stand to save his crew. Despite such heroism, 78 firefighters lost their lives.


Ultimately, the legacy of the 1910 fires proved not to be the deaths and damage they caused but a new insistence, voiced by Chief Forester Bill Greeley, that "the first and greatest commandment of American forestry is to keep fire out of the woods."


The third new book, Wildfire: A Reader, edited by Alianor True, is a collection of 24 essays and excerpts that approach fire from a wider range of perspectives.


The collection has a little of everything, including Cherokee and Miwok fire-origin tales; excerpts from Norman Maclean's tragic classic Young Men and Fire, and from his son John's book about the South Canyon Fire; Ed Engle's firsthand description of the firefighting subculture; Ted Williams' hilarious chronicle of bureaucratic and pseudo-scientific wrangling during the 1988 Yellowstone fires; and Margaret Millar's essay about regeneration in the chaparral ecosystem after fire.


All three books provide an emotional depth to wildland fire that moves beyond the stern warnings of (as Williams writes) "the fire-scarred, shovel-slinging black bear" named Smokey.
  • The Seasons of Fire: Reflections on Fire in the West, David J. Strohmaier, University of Nevada Press, 2001. 172 pages. Softcover: $21.95.


  • Year of the Fires: The Story of the Great Fires of 1910, Stephen J. Pyne, Viking, 2001. 320 pages. Hardcover: $25.95.


  • Wildfire: A Reader, edited by Alianor True, Island Press, 2001. 224 pages. Softcover: $17.95.
High Country News Classifieds
  • GENERAL MANAGER
    The Board of UYWCD seeks a new GM to manage operations & to implement our robust strategic plan. Details at www.upperyampawater.com. EOE
  • IN TUCSON, FOR SALE: A BEAUTIFUL, CLASSIC MID-CENTURY MODERN HOME
    designed by architect David Swanson in 1966. Located a block from Saguaro National Forest, yet minutes to Downtown and the UofA campus, 3706 sqft, 6...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Friends of the San Juans is seeking a new leader guide our efforts to protect and restore the San Juan Islands and the Salish...
  • 80 ACRES
    straddles North Platte Fishery, Wyoming. Legal access 2 miles off 1-80. Call 720-440-7633.
  • DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT AND MARKETING
    High Country News seeks a Director of Product and Marketing to join our senior team during an exciting chapter of innovation and growth. This individual...
  • OWN A THRIVING MOUNTAIN GUIDE SERVICE.
    Eastern Sierra guide service for sale to person with vision & expertise to take it onwards. Since 1995 with USFS & NPS permits. Ideal for...
  • IMPROVED LOT
    Private road, hillside, views. Well, pad, septic, 99 sq.ft. hut. Dryland permaculture orchard. Wildlife. San Diego--long growing season
  • UNIQUE INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY
    Profitable off-the-grid business located 2 miles from Glacier National Park. Owner has 6 years operating experience. Seeking investor or partner for business expansion and enhancement....
  • REMOTE SITKA ALASKA FLOAT HOUSE VACATION RENTAL
    Vacation rental located in calm protected waters 8 miles from Sitka, AK via boat with opportunities to fish and view wildlife. Skiff rental also available.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...