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The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved Americaby Timothy Egan
In this remarkable tale of the nation's largest and most devastating forest fire — which burned more than three million acres in the Pacific Northwest in 1910 — Timothy Egan vividly narrates the heroic efforts of the near 10,000 firefighters who gathered to combat the raging and unstoppable blaze. Right at the time Teddy Roosevelt fought for wilderness protection through the establishment of the Forest Service, this dramatic tale recounts the significant impact this colossal fire had on the future of conservation. Egan is a gifted storyteller, and this vivid account recreates the disaster through the lens of those who witnessed it.
Synopses & Reviews
In The Worst Hard Time, Timothy Egan put the environmental disaster of the Dust Bowl at the center of a rich history, told through characters he brought to indelible life. Now he performs the same alchemy with the Big Burn, the largest-ever forest fire in America and the tragedy that cemented Teddy Roosevelt's legacy in the land.
On the afternoon of August 20, 1910, a battering ram of wind moved through the drought-stricken national forests of Washington, Idaho, Montana, whipping the hundreds of small blazes burning across the forest floor into a roaring inferno that jumped from treetop to ridge as it raged, destroying towns and timber in an eyeblink. Forest rangers had assembled nearly ten thousand men — college boys, day-workers, immigrants from mining camps — to fight the fires. But no living person had seen anything like those flames, and neither the rangers nor anyone else knew how to subdue them.
Egan narrates the struggles of the overmatched rangers against the implacable fire with unstoppable dramatic force, through the eyes of the people who lived it. Equally dramatic, though, is the larger story he tells of outsized president Teddy Roosevelt and his chief forester Gifford Pinchot. Pioneering the notion of conservation, Roosevelt and Pinchot did nothing less than create the idea of public land as our national treasure, owned by every citizen. The robber barons fought him and the rangers charged with protecting the reserves, but even as TR's national forests were smoldering they were saved: The heroism shown by those same rangers turned public opinion permanently in favor of the forests, though it changed the mission of the forest service with consequences felt in the fires of today.
The Big Burn tells an epic story, paints a moving portrait of the people who lived it, and offers a critical cautionary tale for our time.
"Egan's tactile dramatization of the fire in Idaho and Montana compares favorably to the best of this genre...as he depicts the climactic moments of firefighters entrapment by flames." Booklist
"Historians will enjoy Egan's well-written book, featuring sparkling and dynamic descriptions of the land and people...while general readers will find his suspenseful account of the fires mesmerizing." Library Journal
A dramatic account of the worst forest fire in American history by the author of the best-selling and National Book Award-winning THE WORST HARD TIME.and#160;
On the afternoon of August 20, 1910, a battering ram of wind moved through the drought-stricken national forests of Washington, Idaho, and Montana, whipping the hundreds of small blazes burning across the forest floor into a roaring inferno. Forest rangers had assembled nearly ten thousand men — college boys, day workers, immigrants from mining camps — to fight the fire. But no living person had seen anything like those flames, and neither the rangers nor anyone else knew how to subdue them.
Egan narrates the struggles of the overmatched rangers against the implacable fire with unstoppable dramatic force. Equally dramatic is the larger story he tells of outsized president Teddy Roosevelt and his chief forester, Gifford Pinchot. Pioneering the notion of conservation, Roosevelt and Pinchot did nothing less than create the idea of public land as our national treasure, owned by and preserved for every citizen.
About the Author
Timothy Egan is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and the author of five books, most recently The Worst Hard Time, which won a National Book Award for nonfiction. He writes a weekly column, Outposts, for the New York Times and lives in Seattle, Washington.
Table of Contents
Prologue: A Fire at the End of the World 1
IN ON THE CREATION
1. A Peculiar Intimacy” 17
2. Roost of the Robber Barons 39
3. The Great Crusade 53
4. Deadwood Days 73
5. Showdown 86
WHAT THEY LOST
6. Summer of Smoke 105
7. Men, Men, Men! 116
8. Spaghetti Westerners 129
9. Firestorms Eve 141
10. Blowup 154
11. The Lost Day 158
12. The Lost Night 172
13. Towns Afire 187
14. To Save a Town 201
15. The Missing 211
16. The Living and the Dead 227
WHAT THEY SAVED
17. Fallout 239
18. One for the Boys 249
19. Ashes 263
Notes on Sources 287
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