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Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894 (P.S.) Paperback – August 14, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

On September 1, 1894, Hinckley, Minn.—a thriving town with a population of more than 1,200, two railroads, a successful lumber mill and five hotels—was ravaged by a firestorm that grew out of a catastrophic convergence of two ordinary fires, high winds, hot weather and white pine forest. Brown, a textbook writer, gives a human face to natural calamity as he draws on firsthand survivor stories, such as those of his grandfather, who at nine was rescued from the disaster that killed his father, a Norwegian immigrant. A wide range of characters evoke the reader's pity and respect in these well-researched and highly readable pages. A black porter selflessly saves white passengers on a train engulfed in flames; a quick-thinking clergyman plunges into a river with a stranger's baby in his arms; and a survivor is haunted by the death screams of 127 of his neighbors in a swamp. With its pine forests obliterated in the firestorm that claimed more than 436 lives, Hinckley became a specter of its former self. Illustrated with period pictures, this deft slice of regional history will attract disaster and weather buffs as well as fans of Norman Maclean's standout Young Men and Fire. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* In 1894, smoke and the reek of it weren't unusual in the northernmost U.S. with its miles of pine forest. Lumber companies pursued the equivalent of strip-mining, sans any cleanup, and in hot, dry weather, branches stripped from trunks and the -forest-floor detritus became tinder for hundreds of sudden fires. On September 1, two big fires south of Hinckley, Minnesota, combined under weather conditions conducive to firestorms. By nightfall, Hinckley and three nearby hamlets were no more. More than 436 persons were incinerated, and some 400 square miles were so thoroughly burned that the soil was rendered useless. Brown, whose maternal grandfather was an 11-year-old survivor, tells the story of that day in clean, precise, fluid prose, maintaining focus on those who fled to communicate some of their terror as they ran from flames moving as fast as they and sometimes lethally faster. He weaves together the movements of his forebears and other Pine County residents as they fled, took shelter, and survived, were rescued, or perished, and the countermovements of the heroic train crews who came to their rescue. He also judiciously inserts explanations of such matters as firestorms, Norway-to-Minnesota immigration, death by burning, and an even more destructive precursor of the Hinckley disaster. Riveting, moving, white-knuckle reading to rank with classic accounts of the "perfect storm," Krakatoa, and other storied calamities. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: P.S.
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (August 14, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006123625X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061236259
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (88 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #31,066 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Daniel James Brown grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and attended Diablo Valley College, the University of California at Berkeley, and UCLA. He taught writing at San Jose State University and Stanford before becoming a technical writer and editor. He now writes narrative nonfiction books full time. His primary interest as a writer is in bringing compelling historical events to life vividly and accurately.

He and his wife live in the country outside of Seattle, Washington, with an assortment of cats, dogs, chickens, and honeybees. When he isn't writing, he is likely to be birding, gardening, fly fishing, reading American history, or chasing bears away from the beehives.

Amazon Author Rankbeta 

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#86 Overall (See top 100 authors)
#2 in Books > History
#86 in Books
#2 in Books > History
#86 in Books

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Paul Tognetti TOP 500 REVIEWER on July 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover
When the citizens of Hinckley, Minnesota arose on Saturday, September 1, 1894 it looked for all the world to be just another ordinary Saturday. Some folks had to work at the Brennan Lumber Mill. For others there was washing to do and provisions to be picked up in town. The children might well spend part of the day fishing or maybe picking cranberries in the nearby bogs. And as for the engineers on the St Paul and Duluth and Eastern Minnesota railroads, they simply had no idea of the calamity there were about to encounter in the towns of Pokegama, Sandstone and Hinckley later that day. "Under A Flaming Sky" is the gripping true story of the mammoth firestorm that engulfed these towns on that fateful Saturday. Author Daniel James Brown, a direct descendant of two of the Hinckley survivors, offers up an incredible book that captures all of the trauma, all of the heartbreak and the unspeakable pain and heroism that emerged on that day. It is a book you will find hard to put down.

Imagine suddenly being caught in a firestorm where temperatures reached 1600 degrees Fahrenheit. Now small brush and forest fires were quite common in these parts in those days so most folks had absolutely no warning about the debacle they were about to face. In "Under A Flaming Sky" Daniel James Brown focuses on a number of families and how they attempted to cope with an impending disaster. Some would manage to escape but many others were not so lucky. You will meet many ordinary people who did extraordinary things. Twenty five year old Tommy Dunn was a telegrapher working at the St. Paul and Duluth depot in Hinckley. Despite the impending disaster Dunn stayed on the job just trying to keep the lines of communication open for as long as he possibly could. Tragically, he would lose his life in the process.
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By D @ Paradise Lake on May 30, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I started reading this- a chapter each evening. About a third of the way through, I got hooked and read straight through to the end in one sitting. I don't normally come to Amazon to write reviews- but this story is worth the read. I enjoyed this more than Isaac's Storm by Eric Larson, which got a lot of press a few years back. If you liked Endurance or the Johnstown Flood, you'll love this book.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Shawnna Pomeroy on May 15, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I got this book last week and since I had to fly cross-country, I figured it would help me pass the time during my flight. Not only could I not put it down, but I my husband (who rarely reads) and I fought over it all weekend when he decided he wanted to read it too! I had to physically force myself to stop reading at 2:00 am early one morning because I had to get some sleep! Mr. Brown writes such compelling prose that, at times, it's easy to forget that this book is a work of non-fiction that this terrible fire swept through Minnesota, leaving destroyed towns and families in its wake. It's hard to comprehend trying to escape a fire of this magnitude, only to survive and discover that your family, house, land and everything you own is gone. Mr. Brown's minute by minute account of the Hinckley fire of 1894, interspersed with details regarding the evolution of the fire from a few burning embers to total firestorm, weather science, burn and infection treatments of the late 1800s, make this book both an engrossing and educational find.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Reader from Spokane on April 27, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Most readers will not have heard of the little Minnesota town of Hinckley or of the horrific inferno that destroyed it on September 1, 1894, with a higher death toll than that of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Historically, the event was significant as perhaps the worst forest fire in American history, a "perfect fire" orchestrated by an unfortunate convergence of terrain, wind, atmospheric conditions, and a white pine forest. The result was a true "conflagration" (a moving fire storm) that in five hours overran most of a county and reached temperatures high enough to melt steel, leaving behind terrain that never again would sustain a real forest (the fire burned so hot that it consumed organic material in the soil down to a depth of ten or twelve feet, leaving a nearly sterile surface of sand and gravel).

The natural question to ask is why someone not a Minnesotan or a disaster junkie would want to read this book. There are several pressing reasons, from the lively storytelling to the especial pertinence of the Hinckley fire to modern readers who-thanks to events like United Flight 93 and Hurricane Katrina-are confronting the very real possibility of disaster striking their own lives.

"Under a Flaming Sky" has been meticulously researched to familiarize us with many of the people involved, then to give a minute-by-minute account of the disaster that enveloped them. We learn enough about the victims to care for them, then wait to see who will survive and who not, hoping for a reprieve or at least a postponement of the inevitable. In fact, wait until you find the identify of Brown's great-grandfather, who perished in the fire. If that doesn't leave a lump in your throat, you are the kind of person who is mean to puppies.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By happyhappykatie on January 13, 2008
Format: Paperback
The Hinkley fire has been a passion of mine since I was 12 years old. I even dragged my grandma to Hinkley to see the mass graves and memorials. I devoured every bit of scrap of information I could on the subject. For years. We went to the Hinkley Fire Mesuem on my honeymoon!! This guy took all this things I have read, and then some, and put them in a story I can read and make total sense of! He did his research to the tee, inserting local histories and stories of the times, attitiudes, medical practices, and family histories, often taken directly from recorded histories given by the people who were there. And expanding on them with science, philsosphy, psychology.
I read this book in less then 24 hours, neglecting my family and house completly. It is wonderful, the most comprehensive book regarding the Hinkley Fire I have ever read. This book will be in my collection forever. I highly reccommend to anyone who has an interest in this history or the way of life in the late 1800's or human nature and compassion
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