On the Burning Edge

On the Burning Edge

A Fateful Fire and the Men Who Fought It

Book - 2015
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This definitive account of the Yarnell Hill Fire is a heartbreaking tale of courage, difficult decisions, and ultimate sacrifice. On June 28, 2013, a single bolt of lightning sparked an inferno that devoured more than eight thousand acres in northern Arizona. Twenty elite firefighters--the Granite Mountain Hotshots--walked together into the blaze, tools in their hands and fire shelters on their hips. Only one of them walked out. Journalist-firefighter Dickman brings to the story a professional firefighter's understanding of how wildfires ignite, how they spread, and how they are fought. He understands hotshots and their culture: the pain and glory of a rough and vital job, the brotherly bonds born of dangerous work. Drawing on dozens of interviews with officials, families of the fallen, and the lone survivor, he describes in vivid detail what it's like to stand inside a raging fire--and shows how the increased population and decreased water supply of the American West guarantee that many more young men will step into harm's way in the coming years.--From publisher description.
Published: New York :, Ballantine Books,, [2015]
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780553392128
Branch Call Number: 363.379 DIC
Characteristics: xv, 277 pages :,color illustrations, maps (some color) ;,25 cm


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Sep 06, 2018

After reading about the Esperanza Fire, I wanted to explore more about wildfires and their history in the United States. Most of the books that have been written about fires involve those that caused deaths, and the next book I found was no exception. “On The Burning Edge” tells the story of the Yarnell Hills fire, which caused the death of 19 wilderness firefighters. (I’ll also be reviewing another book on this same fire in a few days.) I knew this wouldn’t be a happy ending.

Unlike the Esperanza fire, the Yarnell Hills fire was caused by a lightning strike. I don’t know why that made me feel a bit better, but it did. I was relieved that there wasn’t an arsonist involved in this. But it was still a terrible, terrible day. I was already familiar with smoke jumpers - I actually know a guy who used to be one - and when they die the part of me that is afraid of heights just kind of shivers and nods and cries. The team of firefighters in this case was a hotshot team. Instead of jumping in, they come in on the ground and do the brutally hard work of eliminating vegetation and fuel in an area wide enough to keep a fire from spreading past the line. Their equipment includes chainsaws and picks and they hike in with their own water. They also, in the United States, use portable shields that in some cases can save lives. The Granite Mountain Hotshot team, headquartered in Prescott Arizona, used theirs. Unfortunately, the circumstances were wrong and the shelters could not save them.

“On The Burning Edge” tells the story of that whole fateful summer, from the hiring of the rookies on the crew to the aftermath of the fire. Dickman is a firefighter himself, and his expertise came in handy as he explains how the training for these crews work and how they differ from structural firefighters. He clearly conjures the heat and awful environment in which the Granite Mountain team worked. He also rounds them out and lets us see the people they were outside of their coats and boots. Dickman’s writing talent made the book fly by, and even though the story is tragic he brings out many moments of levity right up until the end.

Read this for insight into firefighting - which is only going to get more intense over time - and to understand more about what they and their families sacrifice. Five of five stars.

Jan 02, 2016

What a mess of a book... pretty much typical for an Outside contributor's book. Random facts explored in detail, to no point. Dialogue that goes nowhere. A use of language and syntax that could, charitably, be called creative.
My favourite so far: a paragraph that begins "and then the propane tank exploded." The author devotes the rest of the paragraph describing the function of a relief valve, and how it keeps a propane tank from exploding. So to summarize the paragraph:
"The propane tank exploded. No it didn't."
The language is evocative, but if words have a meaning, it is because we all agree on that meaning. Mr. Dickman seems to have his own private lexicon. He also quotes dialogue and conversations between people who were dead when he started the book. There were some survivors who knew the deceased, but the detailed - and trivial - conversations offered up here can only be fabrications.
The big takeaway: as with burning fossil fuels, we discovered our mistake long past the time we could do anything about it. The relentless sprawl of McMansions into landscapes that should never have been opened up, combined with a century of well-meaning but mistaken fire suppression add up to a slow-motion disaster which will unfold over the coming decades.
I actually learned a bit about fire and firefighting, but it was tough sledding all the way.

Oct 15, 2015

after reading this book i still don't have any idea of what would be like to fight a 2000 degree wall of fire would be like. I picture a fire burning in a straight line or from a living room up to the bedrooms. The fires that we have now are apparently like nothing we have seen before, winding, twisting, jumping, higher than Mt. Everest spreading faster than you can out drive them.
Seems like something needs to change in the way we manage land and forests, build near undefensible areas and have resources to fight them. 19 brave heroes need not have lost their lives if we(collectively) had been smarter.


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