The Atlantic has produced two very good pieces on wildland fire.
One is the video below, about research into the science of combustion and how fires spread. It was filmed at the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory and has excellent production values and photography. Some of the researchers featured will be familiar to those who follow the topic; they include Mark Finney, Jack Cohen, and Sarah McAllister.
The other is a long-form article about the Yarnell Hill Fire that killed 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots June 30, 2013. There have been several similar articles, but this one, written by Brian Mockenhaupt, is better researched and written than some. In addition to describing the fire, and the fire fight, It includes information about what went on behind the scenes at various dispatch and coordination levels, as well as the personal lives of the firefighters.
Here is a brief excerpt:
“To our families and friends, we’re crazy,” [Crew Superintendent] Eric Marsh wrote in the spring of 2013, in a sort of Granite Mountain manifesto addressed to the town of Prescott. “Why do we want to be away from home so much, work such long hours, risk our lives, and sleep on the ground 100 nights a year? Simply, it’s the most fulfilling thing any of us have ever done.”
Marsh took the lead in hiring new recruits, and focused as much on character as on stamina. “When was the last time you lied?” he asked in every interview. “Tell me about that.” Truth telling was a guiding principle for Marsh. He had quit drinking more than a decade earlier, and being honest with himself and others had become a big part of his sobriety.
Like many others who fought the Yarnell Hill Fire and who knew the hotshots who died, [Prescott Fire Department Wildland Division Chief] Darrell Willis has spent a lot of time asking himself why they did what they did. Part of the answer he’s come up with involves the very natural urge to fight and protect our own. “They wanted to reengage,” he said, standing by the posters. “Sure, they could sit up there in the black. But if they could try to get back in the game, they were going to. What they had been doing was lost. And that happens a lot. You put a day’s worth of work into something, and all of the sudden it’s gone, and you have to have a new starting point somewhere. There’s a lot of sweat and expended energy. So what do we do, just sit up here and watch it go by? They knew there was an evacuation going on, they knew there were people staying in their houses. So what would the public think? ‘You’re not going to help us? Why did you even show up?’ ”