cover image Fire Weather: A True Story from a Hotter World

Fire Weather: A True Story from a Hotter World

John Vaillant. Knopf, $32.50 (432p) ISBN 978-1-5247-3285-1

Journalist Vaillant (The Tiger) offers a gripping account of the May 2016 fire that engulfed the city of Fort McMurray in the Canadian province of Alberta, destroying thousands of homes and forcing the evacuation of 88,000 people. His vivid description of the conflagration, which ignited during freakishly hot and dry weather and swept into town so suddenly that residents barely escaped in their cars as their houses flared and vaporized, is set against the Dantean backdrop of Fort McMurray’s oil-sands mining industry, one of the dirtiest outposts of the fossil fuels sector. Later chapters recap the science showing that greenhouse emissions to which the oil sands contribute are making droughts, heat waves, and wildfires more common. Vaillant’s sprawling narrative also takes in 19th-century sea otter hunts and the musings of 12th-century mystic Hildegard of Bingen, as he turns the Fort McMurray wildfire into a potent warning against the dangers of climate complacency and “unregulated free market capitalism.” Despite some moments of overwriting, Vaillant’s exploration of this material is rich and illuminating, and his prose punchy and cinematic. (“He thought he’d been hit, and he had—not by another vehicle, but by a fleeing deer, its fur smoking and aglow with embers.”) The result is an engrossing disaster tale with a potent message. Photos. Agent: Stuart Krichevsky, Stuart Krichevsky Literary. (June)