John N. Maclean was comfortably ensconced as a reporter at the Chicago Tribune in 1994 when he heard news of the South Canyon wildfire on Storm King Mountain in Colorado.
Maclean's father Norman (A River Runs Through It) had labored for 14 years on a book about the Man Gulch fire of 1949 on that same mountain, and John had assisted in the posthumous publication of his father's last book, Young Men and Fire. When Maclean heard about the South Canyon fire that ultimately killed 14 firefighters, he knew he had to do something, but never imagined he'd quit his job and spend the next nine years writing two books on the danger and devastation of wildfires in the American West.
In 1999, following years on the road interviewing survivors of the '94 Storm King Mountain fire, Maclean published Fire on the Mountain to immediate critical acclaim. Now, with the publication of Fire and Ashes, Maclean offers four essays: the story of the 1999 Sadler Fire in Nevada; the 1953 Rattlesnake Fire, started by an admitted arsonist who was the son of a fire engineer; a profile of the last survivor of the 1949 Storm King fire; and a short history of wildfires.
The book's vivid storytelling and investigation into firefighting strategies past and present are sure to draw major attention in this time of runaway wildfires across the West.
Maclean will visit Colorado Springs to sign Fire and Ashes at the Chinook Bookshop this Sunday.
-- Kathryn Eastburn