In an earlier life I worked as a smoke chaser, i.e., “wildland firefighter” in the new parlance. A couple of close calls, a fire storm that broke the tops out of trees around our crew, and the death of several of our firefighters on the South Canyon Fire made me reluctant to read stories about disasters like the Mann Gulch Fire as told by Norman Maclean. I read to the point where the smoke jumpers were overwhelmed by fire. I simply put it down with the question in my mind if I would ever finish it. I haven’t.
However, I recently set my feelings aside and started reading Timothy Egan’s The Big Burn, the story of the Wallace, Idaho fire in 1910. Egan is a terrific writer, and when he segue’s into the early history of the Forest Service, Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, I’m hooked. So…if you are an old smoke chaser or simply interested in the Forest Service and the early years, I recommend this fine bit of writing.