The Thirtymile Fire: A Chronicle of Bravery and Betrayal

John N. Maclean, Author
John N. Maclean, Author . Holt/Macrae $24 (241p) ISBN 978-0-8050-7578-6
Reviewed on: 04/02/2007
Release date: 05/01/2007

On July 9, 2001, the hot exhaust of a state vehicle on fire patrol ignited the major Libby South Fire in the North Cascades Range in central Washington State. When a smaller blaze broke out later that evening some miles to the north in the narrow Chewuch River canyon near the Canadian border, resources were already stretched, and only a small, rookie-laden crew was deployed. This Thirtymile Fire should have been a simple operation, but instead it blew up into a towering inferno of double fire-plumes spinning tornado-like in opposite directions, scorching 9,324 wildland acres. In two weeks, 1,000 firefighters and dozens of helicopters, bulldozers and other heavy equipment were deployed, costing $4.5 million and the lives of four fire fighters. A controversial official investigation claimed that the firefighters defied authority and bore responsibility for their own deaths. Maclean (Fire and Ashes ) interviewed families, survivors, investigators and fire experts, and the result is an evenhanded, lucid re-creation of catastrophe and its aftermath. The author gives a human face to national headlines, capturing the dignity and sense of mission of the lost firefighters, such as Karen FitzPatrick, age 18, a born-again Christian who sought, through firefighting, to "resolve the ageless conflict between the desires of the spirit and those of the flesh." (June 1)

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