Wildfire Media

These are some great books to read and movies to watch to understand the history of wildfire and wildland firefighting as well as more recent events and wildfire science. This list is not exhaustive, it’s just what I have personally read and watched and found value in. Some are very sad, but tragedy fires should be something every wildland firefighter honors and learns from.

 
 
 
 
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Books

The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America by Timothy Egan

This is a very well-written history of the Forest Service, the conservation movement in the early 1900s in America, Teddy Roosevelt setting aside public lands, and the devastating 1910 fires in Oregon, Idaho and Washington, among other topics. it really gives a great overview of how wildland fire shaped American landscapes and politics. I also really enjoyed learning about how they fought such devastating fires back in the day. Read More

Megafire: The Race to Extiniguish a Deadly Epidemic of Flame by Michael Kodas

Wildfires are getting hotter, more destructive, and more expensive to fight every year. This is an engaging account of modern wildfires and what has lead us to this point. It’s a great one to read after “The Big Burn” because it gives you the historical knowledge to understand why certain wildfire policies have a part in creating megafires. It also dives into basic wildfire operations and what goes into fighting fire. Read More

Smokejumper: A Memoir by One of America’s Most Select Airborne Firefighters by Jason A. Ramos

I’ve never been a smokejumper, so this was really interesting to read about their role in fighting fire and what they have to go through physically. He has some great fire stories. Read More

Fireseason: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout by Philip Connors

Similar to the smokejumper memoir, I’ve never been a fire lookout, so I enjoyed reading about this side of wildland firefighting. Fire lookouts used to be extremely prevalent, but now there are less than a thousand staffed lookouts. Decades ago there were probably ten times that many. One forest I worked on had a staffed lookout tower with a man who had worked there about 40 years. I loved hearing his stories and seeing pictures of fires he had taken from up there. This is a great book about this often under appreciated part of fighting fire. Read More

Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean

The Mann Gulch Fire in in Montana in 1949 killed 13 smokejumpers. This was the first tragedy fire to kill so many trained firefighters since the inception of paid wildland firefighters. This fire also changed firefighter training and safety while suppressing wildfires and placed a greater emphasis on fire science. The 10s and 18s that every wildland firefighter knows (10 Standard Firefighting Orders and 18 Watch Out Situations, see RESOURCES tab) came from lessons learned at this fire. Read More

Fire on the Mountain: the true story of the south canyon fire by John N. Maclean

Describes the decisions and chain of events that spiraled out of control and resulted in 14 wildland firefighters dying in a blow up during the 1994 South Canyon Fire in Colorado. This tragedy fire also resulted in new policies, such as the Downhill Fireline Construction Checklist, and training to prevent similar events from happening. Read More

The Thirtymile Fire: A Chronicle of Bravery and Betrayal by John N. Maclean

Four wildland firefighters died in the Thirty Mile Fire in Washington in 2001. This book gives great details about how a basic mop-up fire got so out of control and lead to the crew’s entrapment. A lot of bad decisions were made and the analysis made me think a lot about what I would’ve done in the same circumstances. Read More

The Esperanza fire: Arson, Murder, and the agony of engine 57 by john n. maclean

An entire engine crew died in the Esperanza Fire, which was started by an arsonist in California in 2006. The engine crew was protecting structures when fire behavior picked up rapidly and overtook them. This book definitely made me think a lot about what I do when I’m on structure protection and what my escapes routes and safety zones are. It was also really interesting to read about the arsonist’s trial. He was charged with murder for starting the blaze that killed the five wildland firefighters. Read More

On the Burning Edge: A Fateful Fire and the Men Who Fought It by Kyle Dickman

Dickman was a wildland firefighter before he became a writer so he brings personal experience and perspectives to the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona, which killed 19 of the 20 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. He really gets into the crew member’s lives and who they were and who they left behind. It’s still a mystery why exactly the crew was where they were, but this book helps describe their motivations and how capable the crew was and how quickly the fire conditions changed. Read More

The Fireline: the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots and one of the deadliest days in american firefighting by Fernanda Santos

This is also about the Yarnell Hill Fire and the Granite Mountain Hotshots. It is balanced and well researched, but because Santos was never a wildland firefighter some basic wildfire operations aren’t described as well as they are in Dickman’s book. As an outsider looking into wildland fire culture, she does a good job of not seeking blame. She describes the events leading up to the tragedy and the hotshot’s brotherhood with lots of details and emotion. There was one passage that was very raw and difficult to read that described charred and melted personal affects found with the firefighters. Read More

 

Movies

The Big burn 2015

If books aren’t your thing, just watch this PBS documentary based on the book online. It goes into everything the book does, such as the history of the Forest Service, the conservation movement in the early 1900s in America, Teddy Roosevelt setting aside public lands, and the devastating 1910 fires in Oregon, Idaho and Washington. it really gives a great overview of how wildland fire shaped American landscapes and politics and shows how they fought such devastating fires back in the day. Watch it

Firewars 2002

This PBS documentary follows the Arrowhead Hotshots during their 2000 season, which was one of the most destructive fire seasons to date at the time. You get to see great fire footage and how a crew works together and what their crew life is like. Watch it

Only The Brave 2017

The Hollywood version of the Granite Mountain Hotshot’s short 2013 season which concluded with the death of 19 of their crew members at the Yarnell Hill Fire. I appreciate how much they focused on crew life and the camaraderie wildland firefighters have. Some of the fire scenes are slightly ridiculous, but overall it was a great tribute to the men and their lives. I watched it with my loved ones which was probably a terrible idea. Watch it

firestorm 1998

If you want an idea of what wildland firefighting is not like, this cult classic is the movie for you. I feel like it’s the Point Break of wildland firefighting movies, entertaining but not even a little bit accurate. Every wildland firefighter should see it, in my opinion, just to make fun of. Watch it