- Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; Reprint edition (June 1, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0805075917
- ISBN-13: 978-0805075915
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.3 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #267,504 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Fire and Ashes: On the Front Lines Battling Wildfires Reprint Edition
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About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Horton, running flat out next to Naar, figured it had to be the weather that had betrayed him. He knew the afternoon winds would be strong; he knew the fire was building up. The burnout, though, had proceeded beautifully. He and his crew were at the head of a major fire conducting the day’s biggest operation, the crucial burnout. He had picked people who could handle the job. There would be more plum assignments to come.
Then out of nowhere a gigantic fire whirl had appeared followed by a wall of flame, and
suddenly it was the worst moment of his career and even of his life. It had to be a dirty trick of the weather, not something he had done himself.
Things began to happen at speeds Horton had only heard about. Low grass transformed into tall flames. A wave of airless heat struck him a blow. He felt a stinging pain on his neck and dived headfirst into the grass, landing next to Naar. When he opened his eyes everything around him—the ground, his gloved hands, the exposed skin of his wrist and his yellow fire shirt—shimmered an incandescent white, except for one dark, round patch under his head, as though an atomic bomb had gone off and all that remained was a nuclear shadow.
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I read this book with interest, as I did McLean's previous books on wildland firefighting. And I talked to former colleagues who either were at the incidents he reported, or were on the investigation teams that followed.
In my years as a journalist, I was disappointed every time I saw reporting on something I know intimately, as I do fire. I was disappointed because of how often the reporter got things wrong.
So I checked with my firefighter friends on their opinions of McLean's reporting. Their response was that he is trying to make money off tragic wildland fire, and tends to sensationalize.
From my own knowledge over 13 years of wildfire, the factors leading to fatal decisions on fires that McLean criticizes the most are, in fact, quite recognizable. And he fails in all cases to recognize one factor that exists in every organization -- fire or not. Even when the people are individually qualified to handle more complex situations, the organization itself cannot quickly shift from simple to complex. You'll see it repeatedly in the marketplace as small businesses grow to fast. On fire, you'll see it when rapid recognition and reaction to complexity suddenly becomes required. On fires, the shift from initial attack to extended attack is when the most danger occurs. Not acknowledging the extreme difficulty of transition from simple to complex, not acknowledging the difficulty of making decisions when circumstances have grown far beyond experience, not acknowledging the difficulty of taking action that hindsight cannot challenge in the face of a personal threat of life and death, is to unfairly place blame on fireline supervisors.