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The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (2009)

av Timothy Egan

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Narrates the struggles of the overmatched rangers against the implacable fire of August, 1910, and Teddy Roosevelt's pioneering conservation efforts that helped turn public opinion permanently in favor of the forests, though it changed the mission of the forest service with consequences felt in the fires of today.… (mer)
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The Big Burn about the Great Fire of 1910 should have new relevance today with the plethora of wildfires in the American West.

On August 20, 1910, in the middle of a drought, electrical storms, and high winds, fire spread throughout the forests of Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Some ten thousand volunteers were assembled to help fight the fire but they were overmatched against the fire. Ultimately 85 people died, a number much smaller than it should have been, and which was actually a tribute to the perseverance and bravery of those who battled the flames.

Egan interweaves the story of the fire with background about Teddy Roosevelt and his chief forester, Gifford Pinchot. He also educates readers about the influence on forests and fire management by big monied interests in the country. A prime example was William Clark, a Montana Senator called the “Copper King” who was worth at least $200 million, an astounding amount at the time. He had no patience for the “moralists” of the Roosevelt administration. As Egan writes, to Clark, the West served no greater purpose than in helping him become the world’s richest man. His attitude was shared by the Harrimans, Morgans, Guggenheims, Weyerhaeusers, etc. who were opposed to forest conservation; they saw it as an obstacle to big-business control of the land. All contributed to the effort by Congress to starve the Forest Service of money, and when the Great Fire came, the country was ill-equipped to fight it.

Egan’s well-researched history, at times reading like a disaster/thriller, is a story of greed versus nature. Unfortunately, greed was only vanquished temporarily. ( )
  nbmars | Sep 24, 2020 |
It's not just about the fire of 1910, but as much about the founding of the national forests and parks and the political maneuvering that surrounded that. Learned a lot about Teddy Roosevelt as well. I read this on a cross-country ski trip through a national forest which made me appreciate the story even more. (Thanks, TR.) ( )
  szbuhayar | May 24, 2020 |
Death by forest fire is not pretty. Timothy Egan, author of The Big Burn, relates, “When he started to burn, his hair and clothes aflame, his voice turned into a murderous cant, the sound of life at its end…when, days later, the man’s body was found, it was mistaken for a burned-out log.”

The behavior of people facing forest fires was not always pretty either. When the “Big Burn” threatened Wallace, Idaho in 1910, a brave cast of volunteers did everything they could to save the town, but many men the mayor had known since he was a kid, “bankers and business owners, insurance brokers and builders, families who had names on sides of buildings,” did not. They “elbowed, shoved, and bullied their way onto the exit trains…almost taunting” the mayor to try making them behave like honorable men. One wonders what lies these heels told later to impress their sycophants.

By contrast, “Buffalo Soldiers” (Negro troops) earned much praise after saving the town of Avery, though peculiarly expressed praise it was. One citizen said, “They were black, but I never knew a whiter set of men to breathe. Not a man in the lot knew what a yellow streak was . . . They never complained. They were never afraid. They worked, worked, worked, like Trojans, and they worked every minute…my attitude toward the black race has undergone a wonderful change since I knew those twelve heroes.”

The Big Burn’s accounts of the fires raging in the northern Rockies read as breezily as an action novel yet carry the gravitas of terrible fatality. The fury of the firestorm is brilliantly detailed. We learn (yet again) that the American West operated differently than did a lot of other places. For example, Taft, Montana had an estimated 500 prostitutes among its 2,500 citizens—clearly a busy citizenry and one taking care to be adequately provisioned. Egan examines the politics of natural resources and free enterprise, and attends to the ethnic bias directed at anyone not of northern European descent. The burgeoning conservation movement is central to the story, with Gifford Pinchot (who had an exceedingly odd relationship with a former love) and Theodore Roosevelt figuring prominently in that effort. ( )
2 rösta dypaloh | Apr 1, 2020 |
Well written and documented story of the beginning of the Forest Service and the conservation movement of Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot. Dramatic history of the devastating fire of 1910 and how it shaped the evolution of the Forest Service for the future. ( )
  LindaLeeJacobs | Feb 15, 2020 |
The Big Burn by Timothy Egan focuses on the summer of 1910 when the largest wildfires ever known swept through the West taking forests and towns and animals and people with them. The fledgling Forest Service tried to battle the blazes but ultimately failed with people escaping via train or riding out the fires in tunnels and mines.

Egan tells the story of the fires in the larges context of the time, beginning with the close relationship of a young Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot. These two, along with early conservationists like John Muir, led the fight to create wilderness spaces that would be untouched by man. It was a radical idea that flew in the face of rampant capitalism and development and would not really be implemented until the economics of logging the deep wilderness led to its end.

Egan is a natural storyteller who uses real people and events to tell his story. We follow them through the disaster, living with them as they make crucial decisions. We get glimpses of the wild West that lived on in the mining towns, full of saloons and brothels and violence. And, we see how government and business worked together to impose their will on both workers and wilderness, often without any plans beyond getting as much as they could as fast they could.

A good read that used one event to touch on a variety of topics, many of which are still important today. ( )
  witchyrichy | Jan 13, 2020 |
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Egan's impressive account makes clear that Pinchot and Roosevelt cared deeply for the land—a concern they shared with the rangers who heroically faced down towering walls of flame.
tillagd av Shortride | ändraBookforum, Brian Sholis (Dec 1, 2009)
 
Egan has already proved himself to be a masterly collector of memorable stories.

His new book, “The Big Burn,” continues in the same tradition. It is also a clarion call for the conservation philosophies of John Muir and others as Egan details the saga of “the largest wildfire in American history”...

A masterwork in every sense
 

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Egan, Timothyprimär författarealla utgåvorbekräftat
Dean, RobertsonBerättaremedförfattarevissa utgåvorbekräftat
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If now the dead of this fire should awaken and I should be stopped beside a cross, I would no longer be nervous if asked the first and last question of life. How did it happen?
- Norman MacLean, Young Men and Fire
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Here now came the fire down from the Bitterroot Mountains and showered embers and forest shrapnel onto the town that was supposed to be protected by all those men with far-away accents and empty stomachs.
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Narrates the struggles of the overmatched rangers against the implacable fire of August, 1910, and Teddy Roosevelt's pioneering conservation efforts that helped turn public opinion permanently in favor of the forests, though it changed the mission of the forest service with consequences felt in the fires of today.

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