Fire in the Heart: A Memoir of Friendship, Loss, and Wildfire

Fire in the Heart: A Memoir of Friendship, Loss, and Wildfire

by Mary Emerick


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Fire in the Heart: A Memoir of Friendship, Loss, and Wildfire by Mary Emerick

FIRE IN THE HEART is a powerful memoir by a woman, once a shy, insecure schoolgirl, who reinvented herself as a professional wildlands firefighter. Determined to forge herself into a stronger, braver person, Mary devotes herself to fire from the Florida swamp to Alaska’s interior. Filled with literal struggles for survival, tough choices and Mary's burning passion for what she does, Fire in the Heart , is an unflinching account of one woman’s relationship with fire. But when she loses a close friend to the famous Storm King Mountain forest fire in Colorado, which killed fourteen firefighters, Mary faces the hardest choice of her life; to stay in the game or turn back and try to find the woman she used to be. It is both a thrilling memoir about life-threatening work and a meditation on identity, strength, bravery, bonds, and survivor’s guilt.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781628728439
Publisher: Arcade Publishing
Publication date: 09/05/2017
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 640,107
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Mary Emerick was a wildland firefighter for over 20 years, and the author of her novel, THE GEOGRAPHY OF WATER. Mary has published numerous essays in anthologies, magazines and online publications. She was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2011. She currently lives and works for the US Forest Service in Joseph, Oregon.

Read an Excerpt

Fire in the Heart:
A Memoir of Friendship, Loss, and Wildfire
Mary Emerick
Chapter One

I had been fighting fire for so long that I was not even sure what day it was. In the last two weeks the days had blurred together in a constant waking dream of smoke and fatigue. Roll out of the sleeping bag, pull on stiff leather boots, grab my pack and tool, dig fireline for sixteen hours, fall into bed, clothes still on. Repeat.

The state of my flame-resistant Nomex shirt might be a clue. I thought that I must have been wearing it for at least five days for it to smell this bad. My Kevlar pants were worse, stiffly crusted with spilled saw fuel. I thought that I remembered taking a shower two days ago, though my legs were permanently stained black from walking through knee deep ash.

My long hair was knotted into dreadlocks under my sky-blue hard hat; my lips scabbed from sun and wind. I did not look or feel like a woman anymore. I was not anything substantial, just a constant motion. I only bent with the Pulaski in a kind of endless dance. Scrape the duff down to mineral soil. Take another step. Ignore the sweat that trickled down my neck and between my breasts. Shove everything else—hunger, thirst, regret, fear-deep beneath, in some other place.

The sound of deep fire coughs echoed down the line. We had all sucked in enough smoke to equal two packs today. There were no masks light enough to wear and still do this job. We did it half-assed instead, pulling bandannas over our noses and mouths. The smoke filtered in anyway. Weeks after I left here I knew that the tightness in my chest would linger.

The rest of the twenty person fire crew was falling into the usual grooves, the kind that you ground into after a few days on the same fire. Like a martini, the crew had been shaken up enough so that the contents had settled. I knew who the slackers were, and the free-lancers, and the good ones. There were those who could save your butt if things go south, and others who would fall apart, lose it, and get burned up.

I couldn’t think about that tonight. Instead I kept an eye on the crew, because invariably they were doing something they should not. “Look into the green!” I yelled down the line. The rookies were making the typical mistake of staring mesmerized at the fire itself. It was an impressive sight as it jumped into the tops of black spruce and sizzled in the oven-dry needles. But where we really needed to be looking was in the green, unburned section, our backs to the fire. This was where spot fires could blossom, caused by unseen sparks tossed across by wind. Firebrands, they were called, and the analysts in camp carefully concocted predictions of ignition in terms of percentages.
The scale went up to one hundred percent, meaning that if an ember was to fall on unshaded vegetation, there was a hundred percent chance of a spot fire beginning there.

Table of Contents

1 Holding the Line 1

2 Burning the Prairies 11

3 The Accidental Firefighter 21

4 Sisterhood 55

5 Size-up 64

6 How to Get Over a Smokejumper 90

7 Walking Through 109

8 Close Call 123

9 Fire Family 142

0 Fire in the Blocks 148

11 Death at South Canyon 164

12 Losing My Edge 177

13 After Roger 195

14 Ginger 205

15 On Storm King Mountain 217

16 Alaska 222

Epilogue 237

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