On the Front Lines of American Wildfire

Fire and AshesFrom Publishers Weekly:  This collection of two long and two short essays on U.S. wildfire fighting displays the excellent reporting skills that made Maclean's first book, Fire on the Mountain, a dazzling and popular success. ... The longest section is a reconstruction of the 1953 Rattlesnake Fire on California's Mendocino National Forest, which killed 15 wildland firefighters. Maclean's dogged pursuit of reconstructing some key assumptions about the fire makes this a thriller in disguise. The highlight of the book is the second long piece on the 1999 Sadler Fire in Nevada, which displays all the power of his earlier work through a highly charged and exciting account of a firefighting crew's disastrous encounter with an uncontrollable fire.

From retired USFS Chief Jack Ward Thomas:  Maclean has mastered sleuthing out the perilous interactions of wildfires and firefighters, putting the results of his investigations in the voices of those who were face-to-face with the fire demon. From these enthralling tales emerge hard-earned lessons that cannot be ignored, lessons that are changing the ways in which wildland fires are considered and fought - or not fought. Such is a worthy quest - and makes fascinating reading.

From FSP Books:  An expert's report on why wildland fires keep getting hotter, bigger, and more dangerous to the men and women who fight them. Are wilderness fires now a tragic and enduring feature of the American landscape? John N. Maclean, author of the acclaimed Fire on the Mountain, offers a view from the front lines, combining action-packed storytelling with moving insights about firefighters and informed analysis of firefighting strategy past and present. Beginning with a riveting account of the worst case of arson in wildfire history - the 1953 Rattlesnake Fire in Mendocino National Forest, which claimed the lives of fifteen firefighters, Maclean explains the mysterious dynamics of fire, and the courage and techniques required to combat it. Dennis Smith, author of Report From Engine Co. 82 and Report from Ground Zero, says of this book: "Fire and Ashes explains the mystifying and unpredictable power of forest fires and the rugged personalities of the men and women who seem destined to fight them. Maclean's vivid prose and deep understanding of nature transported me to places I have never been, leaving me with the feeling that I had run side by side with these remarkable Americans. John Maclean is a natural storyteller and a gifted reporter. I could not put this book down."

From Booklist:  Just as combat zones inspire conflicting recollections, firefighting disasters are a challenge to reconstruct, but Maclean again rises to the task. Reprising the themes of his Fire on the Mountain (1999), an account of a fatal 1994 Colorado forest fire, this work tells of two infernos: a 1999 conflagration in Nevada and a 1953 case of arboreal arson in California that took 15 lives when the fire exhibited unexpected behavior. Maclean writes that fire bosses were shocked that it burned downhill, surprising and overwhelming religious missionaries who were working the fireline. Fire's capriciousness also figured in the 1999 Nevada wildfire, but more significant, according to Maclean, was the fact that a crew chief and his superiors made risky decisions; miraculously, a wall of flame angled away and spared trapped firefighters. Careful in analysis, Maclean turns visceral when imparting the sudden terror of life-ending flames, or, as for a survivor of the 1949 Mann Gulch disaster whom he visits, a life-searing whirlwind. A solid choice that will be in demand, particularly during the West's summer fire season.

From Kirkus Reviews:  Maclean notes the folly of hubris in the face of wildfire, the administrative snafus that can result in entrapment of firefighters, the pure miracle of escape ("The nugget of flame churned at the mouth of the gulch, then unexpectedly sped away"), even the value of a personal prayer. "Mommy, help me! I'm burning!" was the radio call of one firefighter. She lived, happy to face down the jibes. Sharp descriptive analyses capture this atavistic force that charges across the human imagination in phenomenal and dreadful fashion.