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Books About Fire--A Review Of Whats Burning Out There--

Updated on February 16, 2012

I have this secret ambition to write a best-seller about hotshot firefighters, the dangerous work and the exiting lifestyle: marching into conflagrations across the American west, friendships, fire-shelter deployments, international travel, and of course, torrid romances. Since I am in this line of work (firefighter) and because I have this secret ambition, (renowned author, universally admired) I have done my research and have spent some time reading the books written by my not too soon-to be competition, I have been spying. I like to see how others have written about this subject that I am so intimately involved with. Even if my writing remains dormant, I find wildfire an exciting subject to read about. From non-fiction accounts of catastrophic fires and studies of fatality fires, to fictionalized experiences of rookie-seasons and passing romances, these books can be real page turners. Of course some of these books are better then others, a few are unrealistic and corny, some are written by firefighters themselves and others by authors who fictionalize this exciting career.

Today, I thought I would share with you my thoughts on just a few of the great, and a few of the not-so-great, wild-land firefighter novels that are out there. Really there are not all that many around--still a fairly open market! As a writer, I am far from having the criteria to be too judgmental in regards to the prose or let alone the achievement, but as an hotshot, an insider of the wildfire world, I feel I have some authority sniffing out an air of authenticity. If you are interested in this line of work, or just want a great read, consider for yourselves the following books:

FIRE CREW_ Stories from the Fire line by Ben Walters

Written very recently, out in 2011, I found this book on my kindle not too long ago. The book is a collection of the authors clear recollections of his youth in the 1990’s spent working as a seasonal firefighter. It is interesting, and in my opinion an accurate portrayal of what life on a Bureau of Land Management Engine stationed in Idaho was like. Unfortunately, for those of us in the trade, we know that life on a BLM engine in Idaho, well, just isn't all that exciting. Ben Walters does a good job describing life at a guard station. Unfortunately that involves a lot of senseless drinking and I don’t know how the author wasn't fired for some of his drunken shenanigans. But that’s what really happens--trust me. Somehow I didn't connect with the author. I did feel like I have met people very similar to him, while working out on the Payette in Idaho. A few fleeting romances kept me slightly intrigued (I’m a sucker for the romance). But overall I would say this book is more for those who are involved in the fire trade and want to feel nostalgic about their rookie years like the author admittedly does.

Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout By Phillip Conners

I loved this book. Eloquently written, interesting and honest, I really had a great time with, ‘Fire Season’ because I read it while on assignment on the Gila National Forest and found myself struck by the beauty and encouraged by Conners to devour the scenery. I have also always been interested in fire lookouts. His lookout tower is located on a windy precipice deep in the Gila and he is gifted at writing about the beauty he has so much time to admire. It is true that there are a lot of books out there about lookout towers, memoirs and such, but I still very much enjoyed this book. Also truthfully, it is a dying profession, lookouts, so there won’t be too many more books on the subject around. He does not get too deep into the technical aspects of the job but his musings on the American west and the history of fire are interesting and again, eloquent. He informs us of some very stimulating history of the Gila and early conservationism. Read ’Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout,’ and feel closer to nature.

One Foot In The Black- A Wildland Firefighter’s Story By Kurt Kamm

This is an interesting book, it was not written by a firefighter at all but by Kurt Kamm, who is a writer from Malibu who saw the potential of using wildland firefighting as the backdrop for a novel about an emotionally abused kid from Saginaw named Greg. Greg comes out west to work for the California Department of Forestry and then on a more elite helitech crew near Malibu.

When I first was reading, ‘One foot In The Black’ I couldn’t tell if it was fiction for the first few chapters because the Kindle version had a limited description of the author. This led me to be very confused and I ended up looking online to see if it was fiction. After seeing that it was indeed completely fiction I started to notice a few expressions and idioms that one doesn’t really hear while on the fire line. The book did get a little graphic sexually, but truthfully although vulgar, it kept me turning pages. It The story is entertaining and pretty accurate but as a firefighter, myself, I couldn’t help but scrutinizing it for slight inaccuracies. It was fun read but by no means a masterpiece.


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      Tom Staley 6 years ago

      Great set of reviews. Now let's hear yours! I can tell yours will be yours, and very good!