cover image The Great Black Dragon Fire: A Chinese Inferno

The Great Black Dragon Fire: A Chinese Inferno

Harrison Evans Salisbury. Little Brown and Company, $17.45 (180pp) ISBN 978-0-316-80903-0

For a full month, early May to early June in 1987, the fire raged on both sides of the Sino-Soviet frontier along the Black Dragon River, destroying some 10 percent of the world's conifer reserves before it was put out with the help of two Chinese armies. Salisbury, the only foreign correspondent allowed into the area, interviewed officials, soldiers, foresters and plain folk directly involved (the death toll, about 200, was considered surprisingly small) and here presents an awe-inspiring account of what may have been the largest fire in world history--the devastated area is roughly the size of New England. The veteran journalist ( The 900 Days et al.), noting that he was more affected by this story than any other he has covered, explores the dire ecological ramifications with emphasis on the desertification of China, where overcutting and fires claim three million acres a year. Particularly troubling to Salisbury is the sluggishness of Chinese officialdom in developing safeguards against future holocausts in China's vast ``Green Sea.'' Photos. (May)