Towards the end of last year two books about wildland fire were published. “The Thirtymile Fire,” by John N. Maclean, and “A Great Day to Fight Fire” by Mark Matthews. The topic of Maclean’s book is obvious. Matthews writes about the 1949 Mann Gulch fire, which Maclean’s father also covered in his book, “Young Men and Fire” which was finished in 1992 by others after his death.
A writer for the High Country News, Ray Ring, reviewed both new books, showing more understanding of fire than most reviewers. Here’s a sample where Ring writes about “A Great Day to Fight Fire“. (The entire review can be found on the Vail Trail site.)
“Matthews’ book on the gulch fire is the literary landmark there now. It’s also a kind of policy landmark. Matthews spends a few words on how the Mann Gulch deaths led to improvements in firefighting, but his underlying message is that, no matter what tactics we try, no matter what technologies we develop, wildfires will always be wild, chaotic and lethal. As global warming promotes more intense blazes, we can only reduce the risk of casualties by backing away from the flames. Let more fires burn on their own terms; that’s part of Matthews’ acceptance. And the next time prosecutors and next-of kin rush to assign blame for casualties, maybe we should hold off. The deaths and injuries radiating outward are already punishment enough. In the desperate moments when the flames come too close, we’re all perfect in our imperfections.”