Top critical review
Initial fight for U.S. National Parks
Reviewed in the United States on July 10, 2019
This is basically the story of the creation of the US Forest Service whose original goal was the conservation and protection of publicly owned forests from the lumber barons who basically clearcut acres of trees. How Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, along with encouragement from John Muir, created protected forests with the declaration that they belonged to the people.
And at the beginning, that is the entire focus - Roosevelt and Pinchot fighting to create the forestry service, transferring hundreds of thousands of acres to protected status. The Ivy League graduates - enchanted by the beauty and majesty of the Rockies - that followed Pinchot into the Forest Service. The industrialists - some elected to government seats - almost seem caricatured as 'evil' and the rangers as 'good'.
Admittedly, those same lumber barons along with the railroad and mining magnates, would obstruct the forest service - cutting the budget repeatedly to the point that every tool, uniform, food, horse, and more had to be supplied by the ranger himself. They would encourage pioneers to go into the forests, create a settlement/homestead and after their 'ownership' was recognized by the government, sell the lumber rights.
The fire of August 1910 was a one-in-a-century situation - a wildfire fed by strong winds that raced through parts of Idaho, Montana, Washington and British Columbia. For two days, it destroyed millions of acres, obliterated boomtowns that had more saloons and prostitutes than anything else. The records show that 87 people died - mostly firefighters - but the count is deceptive since there were others living in the woods that likely died and their charred bodies never recognized as formerly human. At least five towns burned and were never rebuilt.
It is in the second half of the book that the 'action' increases. The fire is burning fast and the 'action' shifts just as quickly. Egan did considerable amount of research into the background of many of the people involved and tried to include their stories but it also made the second half confusing as it switched from crew to crew, the lead rangers in various towns, this town to that town and back again. Trains trying to evacuate women and children without knowing if the wooden bridges and trestles had already been burned. Then to have interludes of how far the smoke travelled, the numerous photos taken to prove the devastation.
Even in the end, the forestry service had a fight - which was better: let the forest burn as nature intended or to fight it with all the dangers that entailed. It's a question that is being discussed to this day. Especially as the population continues to build further and further into the wilderness and climate change is creating conditions that encourage massive wildfires.
This review is identical to the one posted on GoodReads.com