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Megafire: The Race to Extinguish a Deadly Epidemic of Flame

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As forest fires continue to ravage communities, this bestselling author and firefighter explores what causes them, and captures the danger and heroism of those who fight them

In Megafire, a world-renowned journalist and forest fire expert travels to the most dangerous and remote wildernesses, as well as to the backyards of people faced with these environmental disasters, to look at the heart of this phenomenon and witness firsthand the heroic efforts of the firefighters and scientists racing against time to stop it—or at least to tame these deadly flames.

From Colorado to California, China to Canada, the narrative hopscotches the globe and takes readers to the frontlines of the battle both on the ground and in the air, and in the laboratories, universities, and federal agencies where this issue rages on. Through this prism of perspectives, Kodas zeroes in on a handful of the most terrifying and tumultuous of these environmental disasters in recent years—the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona that took the lives of nineteen elite “hotshot” firefighters, the Waldo Canyon Fire that overwhelmed the city of Colorado Springs—and more in a page-turning narrative that puts a face on the brave people at the heart of this issue. Megafire describes the profound impact of these fires around the earth and will change the way we think about the environment and the essential precariousness of our world.

384 pages, Hardcover

First published August 22, 2017

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Michael Kodas

6 books12 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 45 reviews
Profile Image for Matt.
908 reviews28.1k followers
August 26, 2021
“It was hard to imagine a worse site [for the Granite Mountain Hotshots] to deploy their [emergency] shelters, which are designed to be held snugly to level dirt with nothing that can burn nearby. The thick, oily brush and boulders blocking the canyon not only magnified the intensity of the of the fire but left the firefighters with few appropriate spots to lay down their foil cocoons. As the natural chimney sucked the flames uphill, winds greater than 50 miles per hour pushed them from behind. The crew had just minutes to clear the site for their shelters… ‘We are preparing a deployment site and we are burning out around ourselves in the brush and I’ll give you a call when we are under the sh…shelters…’”
- Michael Kodas, Megafire

On August 20, 1910, during a massive forest fire known as the “Big Blowup,” Forest Ranger Ed Pulaski led his crew to an abandoned mine in a desperate attempt to survive the rampaging flames. With smoke and heat rising, and oxygen falling, some of Pulaski’s men wanted to flee from the sanctuary. Pulaski pulled his gun and threatened to shoot. The men stayed, some losing consciousness. Ultimately, all but five men of the forty-five-man crew survived.

In the charred wake of the 1910 fires, the Forest Service developed a systematic approach to fire suppression, including road networks, communications systems, ranger stations, and lookout towers. It was the beginning of an antifire outlook that became official strategy in 1935, with the creation of the so-called “10 a.m. policy.” This bit of propaganda masquerading as a learned principle called for the suppression of every fire by ten o’clock in the morning of the day following the initial report.

Suddenly, fire – an elemental force providing humans with light, warmth, and hot food – had become the enemy. This would have far reaching consequences.


You don’t need to tell me that the world has its share of problems right now. The coronavirus pandemic has killed and sickened tens of thousands of people worldwide. It has disrupted the ways and rhythms of life in a way not seen since the last world war. The economy has been displaced. Millions are out of work. Millions more – myself included – are clinging to jobs by the fingernails, as the reverberations of the pandemic linger day to day, and month to month. On top of that, in the United States, we can add a bit of social upheaval to the mix, as well as a bruising, ugly political campaign. It seems things cannot get any worse. Of course, in 2020, that is a bad assumption.

Because we are also on fire. Literally.


For the past several years, fires in the western United States have become a seasonal part of cable news. Every summer, we see the video, which is the same as the summer before: fires consuming forests and houses; roads jammed with people trying to escape; tankers dropping pinkish clouds of retardant.

The problem has grown international in scale. For instance, in 2015, intentionally-set blazes in Indonesia released more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in the course of forty days than the entire U.S. economy. Before COVID-19 upended the planet, the wildfires in Australia were shaping up to be one of the year’s biggest stories.

There is no single cause for this fiery epidemic, but rather a concatenation of factors – many a long time in the making – that have combined to create fires that burn hotter and faster and bigger than ever before.

This is the troubling story that Michael Kodas tells in Megafire, a book that is by turns fascinating, terrifying, and frustrating, as it careens from one massive blaze to the next, with whiplash-inducing stops to explore the multiple variables at play.


In terms of structure, Megafire can sometimes feel all over the place. The spine of this volume is the 2012 fire season (with a brief spillover into 2013). On this timeline, Kodas moves forward chronologically, wearing his reporter’s hat and racing from fire to fire, sometimes observing two different conflagrations on the same day.

(Megafire was published in 2017, yet feels as relevant as though it came out today).

The bulk of Megafire is spent in this way, as Kodas pulls up to a fire, interviews the participants (incident commanders, firefighters, and civilians), before rushing off to chase the smoke on the horizon. Depending on your interest in wildfires, this can get a bit repetitive. Having been mildly obsessed with this subject since first reading Norman Maclean’s Young Men and Fire (about the deadly Mann Gulch Fire) twenty years ago, I am more receptive than most. Though lacking Maclean’s poetic prose, Kodas knows how to tell a good fire story, and I was generally satisfied – and occasionally engrossed – by the events detailed in these pages.

For example, Kodas does an excellent job with the Waldo Canyon Fire, a brushfire that reached the environs of Colorado Springs, resulting in a desperate fight that pitted both wildland and structural firefighters against a deadly opponent:

The fire came into the city in three phases. First, the fire front ripped through the trees, scrubs, and grass. Then an ember attack showered firebrands miles ahead of the front. Finally, the fire leapt from house to house. Entire blocks went up, with each burning house spreading flames to the next one down the street. Some homes ignited deep in neighborhoods where nothing else was burning…

Also excellent is his handling of the Yarnell Fire that killed nineteen members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots in 2013. There have been several articles, books, and even a major motion picture about this fire, but Kodas does a good job of slicing through to the heart of the matter, which is the strategic and tactical decisions that have led us to this point of burning cities and burnt-over firemen.


Occasionally, Kodas leaves his main narrative thread to discuss the hundreds of topics attendant to the rise of super fires. This is where the book can get a bit hard to follow, since these discussions can be all over the place, and some feel tacked on or crammed in. For example, there is a short, random chapter on the potentiality of terrorists using forest fires as a weapon that I found pretty unnecessary. Another chapter covers a beetle infestation – driven by rising temperatures – that makes certain trees more susceptible to flames. And just in case you think things couldn’t get any worse, Kodas writes about fires in the neighborhood of Chernobyl, which could toss a bunch of radioactive material into the atmosphere. At this point, you might be thinking: It’s time to leave. Unfortunately, there’s no place on earth to go.

Kodas does a better job when he focuses on some of the major influences on fire behavior, such as climate change, with hot, dry conditions turning forests into tinderboxes; the urban-wildland interface, with people building their houses way out in the wilderness, and then expecting the rest of society to subsidize their supremo views; and past fire suppression activities, which have led to overgrown forests that are densely packed and ready to explode.

This last aspect is especially worrisome, since it has become extremely difficult to do controlled burns. Forests that should have been cleansed with flames decades ago are now so combustible that a controlled fire can quickly slop over, as happened with the Lower North Fork Fire in Colorado. Moreover, the fires that rage in these forests get so hot that they actually kill the forest, burning right down through the soil. The effect, many experts say, is comparable to a nuclear explosion.


There is a lot going on in Megafire, so much that it is hard to keep track (I didn’t even get to touch on the Fire-Industrial Complex, but it’s out there). Ultimately, this might be a bit too packed with information, just like the unburned forests that Kodas describes. That said, it is the best kind of information delivery system, producing its facts and figures with a hearty leavening of thrilling tales. In the end, though, Megafire left me a little bit despondent. There is no easy answer to this problem. There is, in fact, no hard answer either. Turns out that with fire, we can add one more entry onto our growing list of existential fears.
Profile Image for Amelia Strydom.
Author 11 books54 followers
February 18, 2019
If you told me 3 months ago that I would read an entire book about wildfire, I wouldn't have believed you. Despite good intentions, I read very little non-fiction. So why did I read Megafire? It's a sad story. We live in Betty's Bay, a picturesque village nestled between the mountains and the Atlantic Ocean. On New Year's Eve some bright spark celebrated by shooting an illegal flare. The highly flammable fynbos against Platberg mountain caught fire. Although the f-word (fire, in case you were wondering) strikes fear in the heart of anyone living in the area, we weren't too concerned at first. The circle of flames wasn't very big, the firefighters seemed to be winning the battle, and - most importantly - the wind was quiet. We slept with one eye open, though, waking to the beautiful noise of choppers and spotter planes. To our relief the amazing firefighters seemed to have nipped the blaze in the bud.

Little did we know that from the ashes would rise a ferocious and seemingly immortal beast that would devour about 14 500 hectares of our breathtaking Kogelberg nature reserve, killing the unique fauna and flora and leaving devastation in its wake.

The fire raged for a week and a half. Our neighbouring village, Pringle Bay, had to be evacuated during the night of 2 January. Residents and tourists flocked to the town centre since their only exit route was cut off by the blaze. My son was dog-sitting there. He didn't have transport and I couldn't get to him. I went nuts with worry about him and the two slow, lazy Beagles in his care. They were all fine, but not everyone was so lucky. The mom of a volunteer firefighter succumbed to a heart attack, probably triggered by stress.

On the morning of 11 January I felt pretty uneasy, since we were expecting gale force winds. I checked social media obsessively. Local fire authorities declared the fire 95% contained, though. Phew! But my relief was short-lived. When I took the dogs for a morning walk, I saw smoke pouring from between two mountains. The wind was blowing like crazy already, and it was picking up speed. I rushed back to check the official updates. There was no need to panic, apparently: the smoking hot-spots were in previously burned areas. Famous last words. A few short hours later all hell broke loose. The northwesterly wind stoked an inferno that tore through the botanical gardens before engulfing residential areas. A tsunami of flames crashed over the mountainside and into our little seaside village, destroying 41 homes and damaging many others. Residents (many of them elderly) had to evacuate, some escaping with only the clothes on their bodies. One woman, who had been in the bath, blissfully unaware of the imminent danger, only had time to drape herself in a towel. She fled to the main road, where she caught a lift to safety - on the back of an open truck.

To make matters worse, our local firefighting teams were simultaneously battling two separate runaway fires in nearby towns, at least one the result of arson. Miraculously no lives were lost. And
it started to rain. Too little, too late, but at least it limited the damage.

When the smoke lifted we were greeted by utter devastation: a moonscape strewn with the burnt-out skeletons of houses, cars, wildlife... We were - and still are - a community in shock. No one foresaw a disaster of this scope, not even firefighting experts.

So, in an effort to understand how and why the **** the runaway fire had spread so far and so fast, I downladed a sample of Megafires. It was so interesting and so readable that I didn't stop until the end - of the book. I learned a heck of a lot, none of it reassuring. Due to a variety of factors, climate change being only one, we are seeing more megafires worldwide. So what is a megafire? The definition is hotly (see what I did there?) debated, but it is basically a wildfire on steroids. Bigger. Hotter. More devastating, not to mention potentially deadlier. And helluva disillusioning for those of us who thought humans have control over the forces of nature.

Michael Kodas is a skilled writer, a lecturer in environmental journalism, and an (ex?) firefighter who really knows his stuff. He also has the ability to give a human face to disasters, the worst being the Yarnell fire, which claimed the lives of 19 out of 20 young hotshots (superfit, highly trained wildfirefighters). The stories in Megafire will haunt me for a long time, just like our beloved nature reserve and quaint town will bear the scars of our own Black Friday for many years to come.

Update (18 Feb): a 71 year old man, who suffered severe burns when he went back to save his dog, died this morning after what must've been an excruciating month. The dog, Moya, didn't sustain any injuries.
Profile Image for Tom Mathews.
650 reviews
December 1, 2017
I saw this book in the library the day after my sister’s house was lost to the Wine Country fires in California and immediately snatched it up. Michael Kodas, deputy director of the Center for Environmental Journalism, addresses the subject of wildfires and why every year seems to herald increasingly large conflagrations that are continually breaking records, whether by their size, the cost of fighting them, or the number of lives lost. This is happening so frequently that a new word has been added to the lexicon to describe the phenomenon, megafires. In the past decade alone fires are increasingly threatening towns and cities. Fires destroyed hundreds of homes in Boulder an Colorado Springs in 2012 and 2013. In 2014, fires burned into Los Alamos, New Mexico and threatened material disposal areas containing plutonium at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. In June of 2013, nineteen of the twenty elite wildland firefighters of the Granite Mountain Hotshots perished in a fire that threatened homes near their home base of Prescott, Arizona. In addition to the 19 Prescott firefighters, thirty other wildland firefighters perished in the time it took Kodas to write this book.

This is not just an American phenomenon, though. In 2009, 179 people died when wildfires destroyed the Australian town of Marysville. Other massive fires have burned around the globe with many threatening urban areas such as Valparaiso, Chile; Cape Town, South Africa; and Fort McMurray, in Canada.

Kodas attributes a variety of factors to this increase. First is the whole attitude that we have had about fires and the Smoky Bear philosophy that all fires must be stamped out immediately. Forests have been around for millions of years and during all that time fires have periodically burned through them, thinning them and getting rid of sick and dead trees and leaving the forests healthier because of it. One hundred years of aggressive firefighting, though, have lead to millions of square miles of forests that are overcrowded and full of deadfall and sick bug-infested trees that, when they do burn, burn with a catastrophic intensity. Add to that the modern reality that almost half of Americans are now living in what is called the Wildland Urban Interface, areas where any burns, prescribed or otherwise, would be a threat to lives and property. Kodas also makes clear without directly saying so, that climate change, or variability, as more circumspect sources would say, plays a large part in the trend. In little more than a decade the fire season has increased by over two months and some fires have continued to burn until well into the following year.

Bottom line: This book has a lot of excellent information and is very well footnoted, a relief after some other books I’ve read recently. Unfortunately, unless all of our public officials and city planners could be made to sit down and read it, I fear that this trend will continue and that, as forest service researched predict, we could see fires burning up to 20 million acres, an area the size of Maine.

FYI: On a 5-point scale I assign stars based on my assessment of what the book needs in the way of improvements:
*5 Stars – Nothing at all. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
*4 Stars – It could stand for a few tweaks here and there but it’s pretty good as it is.
*3 Stars – A solid C grade. Some serious rewriting would be needed in order for this book to be considered great or memorable.
*2 Stars – This book needs a lot of work. A good start would be to change the plot, the character development, the writing style and the ending.
*1 Star – The only thing that would improve this book is a good bonfire.
Profile Image for J.S..
Author 1 book51 followers
April 9, 2019
With the wildfires that burned in California only a few months ago, I thought this might be insightful reading. The deadly Paradise Fire that burned so many homes seemed far from my home in SoCal, but the Woolsey Fire was very close, very visible, and caused dozens of friends to evacuate. And even though the cool and wet spring (luckily no major flooding) has brought grass that is already waist high in some places and the wildflowers are set for a spectacular year, there's still plenty of blackened reminders in the nearby hills of how bad it was just a few short months ago.

The book doesn't talk about the kind of grass fires that are likely in my area, however, no matter how frequently they may burn. Instead it is about the forest fires that are becoming ever more prevalent in places like Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, and Montana. Kodas talks about the reasons forest fires are becoming so much worse than in the past, such as past policies of fire suppression that have led to abundant ground fuel and warmer and drier weather. He also talks about the problems of more and more homes being built in remote areas where the trees are growing thicker and closer to the structures than would normally occur. He looks at the usefulness of air drops of fire retardant and the people who have organized to fight the fires, such as the "Hotshot" teams. And a major focus of the book is the Granite Mountain Hotshots who were caught in an Arizona blaze that killed 19 of the 20 team members.

It's a good book even if it didn't address the fires I was most interested in. 3.5 stars for me, but rounded up.
Profile Image for Robert Koslowsky.
83 reviews2 followers
January 7, 2018
I picked up this book as a result of losing our home in the Tubbs wildfire that wiped out more than 6,000 structures in the Santa Rosa area. Our present circumstance makes us just one more victim of, what Michael Kodas and others have called, a “megafire.”

Unlike the author’s early experience of not discussing wildfires with his family, we were always aware of the danger of wildfires in our Fountaingrove subdivision. For more than a decade, we’ve paid a monthly fee for ensuring our community is “Firewise,” which meant proactive thinning of vegetation, establishing and expanding firebreaks, ensuring fire engines had easy access to defend every home in the area, and more. Green spaces were protected and irrigation was maintained to promote native species plant growth as well.

But this made NO difference. As Kodas pointed out in Megafire, today’s wildfires run roughshod over any structure built in Wildlife-Urban Interface (WUI) areas such as ours.

His book explains what is “driving fires to be so much larger, faster, hotter, and more destructive.” And the Tubbs fire we barely escaped in the wee hours of October 9th, 2017, proved to be everything and more as described in Kodas’s book, published just six weeks before, on August 22, 2017.

On the Doce fire, a Danny Parker tells us, that it grew “from 50 to 5,000 acres in just three or four hours. Its rate of spread was absolutely incredible.” This is just how the Tubbs fire grew in Santa Rosa: “We had 20,000 acres [burning] in 12 hours,” said Cal Fire Capt. Richard Cordova on Monday afternoon of the Tubbs fire. “It’s pretty much unheard of.”

The federal government doesn’t consider wildfires a danger like a tornado or a hurricane. Go figure. “A 2015 study by the U.S. Forest Service reported that about one in three U.S. residences – about 44 million homes – are in the WUI, where development abuts fire-prone open space . . . In the United States, as in the rest of the world, the flames are proving impossible to stop.”

So impossible to stop, in fact, that Santa Rosa fire fighters didn’t even try to fight the Tubbs fire along the ridge on which our Fountaingrove homes were once nestled. It was just too dangerous. We never saw a fire engine or a single fire fighter that night, just police officers banging on our door to evacuate us at 3:00 am in the morning wearing only our pajamas. We just made it out alive as the choking smoke was illuminated by an eerie orange glow.

There was no warning.

Modern technology did not help, either. In fact, local authorities refused to use the very technology for which we pay taxes in order to warn its citizens. As Kodas wrote, “The flashy science and cutting-edge technologies available to study and respond to wildfires don’t always translate into advantages in fighting them.”

No one, it seems, can fight a fire like a Tubbs megafire!
Profile Image for Dan Ward.
146 reviews2 followers
October 16, 2017
Really interesting premise. However the book reads like a puppy walks. All over the place with no apparent destination. I couldn't finish it because I was tired of the narrative hopping from place to place without any warning.
Profile Image for Lauren.
58 reviews3 followers
August 12, 2019
This was ok. I enjoyed reading about the science of wildfires and connections to climate change, but only some of the firefighting stories were written in a way that was interesting to me (and those stories took up more than half of the book). I appreciate learning things like how over 80% of wildfires are human-started, and how Alaska is warming almost as fast as the rest of the US because polar regions are heating faster than the rest of the planet. Wish there had been more discussion on long-term implications of megafires and what we're doing to prevent them. I guess the answer is in the "hotshot" firefighting crews on the ground, in the blazing hills.
Profile Image for Josh.
420 reviews6 followers
November 3, 2017
Not the first book I've read on major wildfires and I'm certain it won't be the last.

Kodas brought a journalist's critical eye to a myriad of issues that plagues wildland suppression efforts, many of which are a culmination of factors that have been ongoing for the past century. The attitudes and behaviors of individuals, agencies, and governments have all played a role in making the situation far worse as the fires are growing ever larger due to increased fuel loads, increased development in the wildland / urban interface, drier weather, extreme temperatures and piles of attitudes that have lead to all of those items.

I appreciated the international perspective and would have liked to see more of those examples (and the approach of other nations to mitigate the risks) but appreciated the attention that was given to them, nonetheless.

In all ~ A decent read that I'd recommend to anyone looking to leave the developed urban cores to understand the risks wildfires present and the environments that could be impacted.
Profile Image for Sheila.
283 reviews2 followers
June 19, 2020
COVID-19 aside, read this book BEFORE you make any travel plans this year. It will scare the pants off you--and you should be scared. Don't assume you can rely on "technology" to save you. Remember--this is capitalism and things aren't working out the way they are advertised! You need to be hyper-aware in a globally-warmed, drought-ridden environment. Even the nation's elite fire fighters can't contain the mega fires the system has created.

The first thing I thought of when the author describes a fire fighter being burned almost to death was Hiroshima, where a single bomb inflicted the same suffering on hundreds of thousands of people. Ironically, Edward Teller, one of the nuclear physicists who helped develop the atomic bomb, was so afraid some enemy would nuke the USA he convinced the US government to start a campaign to move US Americans out of big cities. This, the author points out, led to the mass exodus of 20 percent of the US population INTO high risk fire areas across the US! This expansion of the 'burbs was funded with government backed mortgages.

The author should have read "1491" by Charles Mann, an excellent book that describes why Native Americans didn't burn down North America. It was because they were skilled at "controlled burns" which they used to thin out highly flammable brush and small trees, and to create park-like areas that attracted wild game (instead of penning up animals.) North America was NOT a wilderness when Europeans arrived. After attempting mass genocide against Native farmers (yes, farmers, not "primitive hunter-gatherers"), the Europeans cut down the biggest, most fire resistant trees, and committed other crimes. In addition to "1491" I also recommend "Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water" by Marc Reisner (1993). This is another book that will blow you away. You can't understand fire without understanding 500+ years of history.
Profile Image for Barb.
378 reviews
November 12, 2017
This book traces the history of forest fires from the Big Blow-Up in 1910 which burned about 3 million acres in Washington, Idaho, and Montana to the recent wild fires in the West. The book explores the causes of today's wild fires including the Forest Service's century old policy of fire suppression. More and more homes have been build in the nation's forested mountains, many without any buffer from fires surrounding the structures. Logging operations and grazing animals have also affected the health of forests.

Here are a few facts from the book:
"Above Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, and Boulder, forests that historically had fewer than 100 trees per acre now have upwards of 500. In Arizona ... an acre that historically had 20 ponderosas is now crowded with 800 - 1,200." (p. 62)

"Across Colorado there are at least 180,000 "slash piles" of timber from thinning operations , waiting for incineration. Some of sat there for decades." (p.66)

"Wildfires went from taking up 16% of the U.S. Forest Service budget in 1995 to more than half of it 20 years later." ( p. 137)

Most surprising was the questionable effectiveness and success of fighting fires with planes and fire retardant. As technologies for fire fighters improved, it was thought that such improvements, like better fire shelters, would protect fire fighters from fires that are burning faster and hotter.

Certainly the western United States faces more megafires in the future that will challenge the budgets, resources, and safety of the firefighters and the citizens in their path of such.
79 reviews
November 29, 2017
I can't say for sure if knowing the author of a book colors my reading or reaction, but in full disclosure I do know this author. Until he pulled up from working at a "competing" paper here in Connecticut for his new gig in Colorado Michael was among my favorite colleagues to see on assignment. I knew I would be visually challenged to make images as good as he would, but I also knew he was a genuine friend. As soon as I saw he was publishing this book it was on my to-read list. Growing up in Oregon the fact of wildfire is ever-present and even though I now live someplace where such fires are a distant and rare problem I have always remained highly attuned to the science, culture and politics of wildfire. The deaths of the Granite Mountain Hotshots was big news all over the country and it is a powerful element in Michael's efforts to document the issues around wildfire in the U.S. (and the world) in the time of increasing climate change impact. Michael does an impressive job of melding gripping storytelling of the people with the scientific and political responses. Not since I read Norman Maclean's "Young Men and Fire" have I been so riveted by the stories of wildfire and those who battle it.
1,227 reviews14 followers
December 26, 2018
If you live in the west Wildfires are a part of life here. The author a very good job explaining why these fires are becoming more and more intense and destructive. And his answers are balanced. It’s Not just climate change, or firefighting bureaucracies, or wildfire management policies, or the expansion of building homes where they don’t belong it all of this and more.
Most of the fires that are detailed in the book took place in Colorado, so if you live here as I do, they will be very familiar.
The problems with the book are
1. No maps of any of the places where the fires took place.
2. The author is more journalist than storyteller, so much of the book reads more like a newspaper account of what happened, it tends to come across rather dry.
Still the book does explain in easy to understand descriptions what is causing these massive destructive fires, and why they will only continue to get worse.
Profile Image for Roger.
81 reviews
October 25, 2017
A timely and interesting book about causes and effects of the increasing number of very large and very destructive forest fires in recent years. It mixes a discussion of the causes of the increase with historical accounts of a number of fires and how they affected people in their path and the people that fought them as well as the politics behind the decisions of what fires to fight and how to fight them. that offers a mix of science, history and politics in relation to the rise in the number and severity of forest fires. The causes are pretty well known (too much fire suppression in the past, too many people moving into fire-prone areas, climate change) but Kodas added details and insights that added to what I already knew. The mix of causes/history/politics was a bit jumbled at times but nonetheless I found it very readable.
30 reviews
February 9, 2018
Four (or maybe 5) stars for content. There's some really important, interesting things here, and I learned a lot both about how much wildfires have increased in intensity this century and the various contributing factors. The structure of the book is what made it a difficult read for me. Some of the time, he wrote an in-depth human interest story about the people impacted by a fire. Sometimes, it was a drier look at years of policy or natural changes that impact the fires. It was vaguely chronological, with a major emphasis on the Granite Mountain Hotshots. The book opens with Granite Mountain introduction to characters, abandons them to look at a century of forest fires and policy, with uneven focus on which ones are covered, and then concludes with Granite Mountain in depth. Nothing in particular was poorly written, it just was disjointed to me.
308 reviews2 followers
July 9, 2018
This is one of those books I never would have picked up save for the book club. Being in the midwest, you hear about forest fires on the news, maybe even see some video. Yet, you really never see the true scope of the problem. Rather than fire-hosing his audience with a stream of facts Kodas sets them within the context of a series of wild-fires that have taken place in the last decade. He puts human faces to the statistics and thus makes the learning itself more compelling. This really opened my eyes to the overall problem itself. While I am politically conservative, Kodas had a pretty balanced approach the data, acknowledging that this was an incredibly complex issue.

My only gripe is that the chapter/narrative structure itself was hard to follow. The chapter divisions seemed somewhat arbitrary and made it difficult to trace the argument.
Profile Image for Jaime Robles.
67 reviews2 followers
December 19, 2020
The book begins and ends with the death of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots who were killed near Prescott, Arizona, in 2013. And throughout the book, Kodas continues to return to the personal when describing the destruction caused by a new kind of forest fire, the mega fire, the cataclysmic and unpredictable fire that is driven by climate change and is now a global phenomenon. Besides describing what makes these fires different from previous fires, he describes in detail the lives of those fighting the fires and those affected by fires through the loss of their homes, land and families. It’s not an easy read, but it is clear in its message: these fires are beyond control and they have the potential to destroy not only woodlands and homes, but the planet itself.
Profile Image for Ula Tardigrade.
175 reviews7 followers
August 28, 2019
This is an interesting and well researched book, however it left me a little bit disappointed because of misleading description: based on it I was hoping for more global, pop-science work about the phenomenon of megafire. In fact author is focused mainly on US, with only brief mentions of cases from other countries. Moreover, it's rather a coverage of biggest US fires than a popular science book, and while the descriptions are lively written and engaging, they can become a little repetitive at some point. Also the main topic of the book are the firefighters and firefighting policies, not the fires themselves. So if this are the themes you are interested in, it’s an excellent choice to read.
Profile Image for Susan.
792 reviews40 followers
December 22, 2017
Fascinating and disturbing reporting about the increase in wildfires in the western United States and how our current method of dealing with them is not successful. Kodas opens with the death of 19 hotshot fire fighters outside of Prescott, AZ then examines the history of wildfire fighting leading up to the tragedy. Perhaps I have found myself drawn to this and other books about wildfires, especially now after the fires in California. Kodas has made his living as a reporter, and the book benefits from his straight-forward newspaper style writing.
Profile Image for Chris.
140 reviews4 followers
July 17, 2022
Although a few years old, this book seems more relevant today than ever. If you want to understand why wildfire seems to be more of a problem today than in the past (aside from climate change) — this is a great book to take in. Aside from discussing the nuts and bolts of modern forest management and firefighting strategies, the author also tells the gripping stories of people on the front lines laying their lives on the line.
Profile Image for Edward.
355 reviews7 followers
October 21, 2017
Giving this title four stars - it was well-researched and well-written. I was not as interested in history or policy and governmental machinations, but was interested in the recent events. Author did a good job of explaining recent fire events and how the season is shortening and growing more intense.
96 reviews
January 20, 2018
Because I'm fascinated by fire, concerned with a warming climate and interested in the West, this book pulled me in. Fortunately I had background on the mechanics of fire from a book that I loved more than this one: Under a Flaming Sky by Daniel James Brown. The two books in concert raised my appreciation for fire and the folks who fight them.
Profile Image for John Branney.
Author 13 books3 followers
March 8, 2018
I am a volunteer firefighter in the Colorado mountains so I found this book interesting and informative. I especially enjoyed the portions of the book dedicated to past fire fires and the fires' behavior. I was less interested in the politics and global warming side of the book. Worth the read. Two thumbs up.
Profile Image for Kristen Montgomery Breh.
36 reviews14 followers
April 1, 2018
Fascinating facts behind the increasing danger and power of wildfires- how climate, finances, and our attitudes and strategies toward fighting fires are making them more pervasive and deadly. This book reads more like an exciting novel than non-fiction, bringing the reader close to many of the hotshots and their family affected by the fight against wildfires. An exciting and important read.
807 reviews
April 2, 2018
The topic is especially fascinating to me, especially after our Wine Country Fires in October. I'd previously read about the Granite Mountain Hot Shots, as well as The Big Burn, so the topic isn't new. The Colorado piece of this reporting was new to me though. Really interesting.
Profile Image for Erika.
63 reviews1 follower
December 24, 2018
You get every P.O.V, from survivors, firefighters (wildland & structural), those in charge, legislators...

You will learn the science, the economics, the politics... & commradiere.

It is equally informative & emotional. I honestly can't think of any way it could have been better!
Profile Image for Kathy.
747 reviews2 followers
March 15, 2023
You hear about wild fires all the time, but this book puts them right before your eyes. They sound like a living hell. My heart goes out to the families of the firefighters who lost their lives. What brave men.
It's hard to believe there are any forests left after reading this book.
216 reviews2 followers
October 3, 2017
Outstanding book about megafires in the West and how they are likely to become worse in the future.
Profile Image for Jill Heather.
892 reviews11 followers
December 5, 2017
I think the book needed massive reorganisation -- I understood the goal, but I think it didn't work out right. But it's fascinating stuff.
Profile Image for Roy.
5 reviews
March 14, 2018
You may rethink your plan to move to the woods after reading this book. Excellent and timely as climate change brings on accelerating hazards to a drying West.
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