A about the biggest wildfire of the century--the big blow-up of 1910--The Big Burn is a portrait of a time, a place, and an event that changed the way we fight wildfires, altered the landscape of Idaho and Montana, and transformed forever the lives of the people at the front lines.
About the Author
JEANETTE INGOLD, the author of six young adult novels, has been writing since she worked as a reporter on a daily newspaper many years ago. Her novel Hitch was a Christopher Award winner. She lives in Missoula, Montana.
Read an Excerpt
A fair day followed a night brightened by dry lightning streaking to earth. Ranger William Morris set out from Coeur d'Alene Forest headquarters in Wallace, Idaho, to accompany a university professor on an expedition to look at mountain vegetation. They headed south along Placer Creek and then angled off to climb Striped Peak. A stiff wind kept them comfortable as the day heated up.
The Coeur d'Alene National Forest stretched out around them, a million and a half acres of pine and Douglas fir, of tamarack and hemlock and cedar. Needled treetops locked together to line canyon bottoms and cover furrowed slopes in unbroken sheets of green. In the distance, where jagged, bare peaks rose from layered tiers of rough mountains, the green turned to hazy blue.
They were eating lunch atop the sixty-three-hundred-foot summit when Morris noticed smoke in the southwest. He took a compass bearing and went back to his meal. But then a second, quickly ballooning smoke appeared in the southeast and was soon followed by the wispy track of a third fire.
He plotted their locations on his map, and then he and the professor returned to Wallace to report them.
The next time Morris climbed Striped Peak, he would find that all the land's greenness was gone, replaced by a blackened tangle of burned trees. He would write that they reminded him of jackstraws more than anything else.
July 13, Morning
Private Seth Brown, seventeen, of the all-black Twenty-fifth Infantry (except for the white officers) slid the bayonet blade onto his rifle and jammed its keyhole fitting into place. Everyone else in the squad was long done cleaning up from the morning's training and preparing for the afternoon's, but Seth-his fingers fumbling through still unfamiliar tasks-was keeping them all from going to lunch.
"Hey, Junior!" one of the men said. "You break that U.S.A. government property, and you'll be buying it out of your pay."
"Shut up," another said. "You want to slow him down more?"
Seth bent over his last task, which was to fit the required gear onto his belt for the afternoon march. He hurried as best he could, but trying to remember how to attach it all....And his canteen! How could he have forgotten to fill it? Even if he didn't need the water, Sarge would notice the canteen swinging empty and get on him about that.
A hand held out a filled one, and Seth looked up to see the new guy on the squad. Abel, that was his name.
"I got here with an extra," Abel said, shrugging to make light of his help.
"Thanks," Seth told him. "I owe you."
"I'll collect," the other said with a smile.
Seth had seen how fast Abel had got all his own gear squared away, arriving less than an hour earlier and already fitting in. He was the kind of soldier Seth wanted to be, only the harder Seth tried, the more he seemed to mess up. Seth had thought that maybe when his company left its garrison outside of Spokane, he'd get a chance to show how he could at least stick to a hard job longer than anybody, but it hadn't happened. So far, bivouac was proving as much a disaster as anything else in the months Seth had been in the army.
Sometimes he wondered why he'd signed up-even lied about his age so he could-and then he remembered how he'd believed he could do his father proud. Join his father's old outfit and pick up where his father had left off, fighting wars and stopping riots. Those had been his father's favorite stories, told over and over those last days before sickness made his leg gangrene and then killed him.
Anger surged through Seth. It wasn't right for his father not to have told him the whole of it, how the army also meant learning a hundred new jobs and a hundred right ways to do them.
The army had a right and a wrong even for campfires, it seemed. Just that morning Seth had got up before reveille to make one, thinking the other men might welcome a way to ward off the early morning chill. Only, Sarge had yanked him to his feet and loudly demanded to know what Seth thought he was doing. "You want to want to burn this whole place down?"
Like I didn't have sense to handle a simple fire! Seth thought. He smarted all over again, remembering the disgusted voices of his awakened tent mates. "Brown, of course. No one else dumb enough to find trouble even before wake-up."
Now, finally, Seth attached the last item to his belt, tightened the gaiters that wrapped around his trouser legs from foot to knee, and made sure he'd buttoned the four pockets of his uniform jacket. Cut for a man, it was too full for Seth's slender body, but he couldn't do anything about that. He reached for his wide-brimmed felt hat.
"Hey, looks like you got it," the new guy, Abel, said. "Come on. Let's get some chow, and then you can tell me what's what around here."
Copyright © 2002 by Jeanette Ingold
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What People are Saying About This
"A must-read for adrenaline junkies."VOYA
"Ingold captures the momentum of a wildfire."Publishers Weekly
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A good story about one of the largest, if not the largest, wildland fire in the history of the United States. The author did a great job of portraying the tools and methodology firefighters use to fight these fires, but the punctuation was severely lacking in places in my e-book, making for frustrating reading. Some of the words in sentences did not make sense, either; and in some places, the author should have used different words than those she chose. It's a shame that such a good story was ruined by these mistakes, but it did take away a lot of the enjoyment of the story.
Imagine fighting on the frontlines, serving in the army, or even trying to protect a home during one of the most unpredictable and dangerous fires in America¿s history. Jeanette Ingold, author of The Big Burn, allows the reader do so. This award-winning story uses stirring and vivid accounts based on what people may have really experienced in Idaho and Montana in 1910. The story of struggle was fascinating. The book began with thrills and continued to climax all the way to the last page, never encountering a dull moment. Fires were spreading throughout Idaho and Montana, and the suspense of when the Big Blow Up would occur would hang over you constantly. Once the fires did conjoin into one massive force, the action and extreme measures to stay alive was highlighted with dramatic escapes. Although the author portrayed the devastation of the fire in clear detail, the structure of the chapters sometimes left me confused, taking away from the overall rating of the story. Ingold decided to write the account through the eyes of not one character, but four. Each chapter was alternated through these characters¿ experiences. These four personalities included Jarrett, an inexperienced fireman, Lizbeth, a homeowner trying to protect her lumber, Seth, a new army officer, and Samuel, a veteran firefighter. While switching chapters I was struggling to revisit that particular character¿s situation, having just read a section featuring entirely different conditions. Although this method of switching positions was sometimes confusing, it was very effective in building suspense. The end of each chapter was concluded precisely when the reader was left wanting more. Also, this allowed the reader to experience the struggles of all the citizens- their fears, losses, pain, and worries on their minds. Overall, Ingold¿s technique of changing among versions contributed to seeing the complete representation of the effects the fire had on the inhabitants and the urgent atmosphere the danger created. One aspect that was intriguing was when Ingold¿s characters began to relate through confrontation. The author set up clever relationships between the characters so the reader would not become overwhelmed with repetition with the characters¿ interactions between the fires. A courtship, friendship, and family reunion are developed amid the chaos. The courtship and family ties were interesting to follow, but the friendship was thrown into the mix carelessly. The characters met under unrealistic circumstances, barely even spoke, and then were viewed as ¿best friends.¿ Nonetheless, Ingold cunningly intertwined the characters to form bonds in spite of the danger surrounding them. The Big Burn is strongly recommended for anyone who loves history or excitement. Although the structure of the chapters was confusing, the action of the book was nothing short of thrilling along with accurate information. Jeanette Ingold depicts the extreme dangers for those living in Idaho and Montana in 1910 in detail though the eyes of four very different people overwhelmed to survive one the most deadliest fires on the United States¿ soil.