Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Big Burn

Ever since I read the book by David McCullough, Mornings on Horse Back about Teddy Roosevelt, I have been a huge fan of the former president.

Recently I read The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America.  I was fascinated to learn the role Mr. Roosevelt had played in the establishment of the United States Forest Service. This fascination was compounded by the fact that names of many of the men in the book were very familiar to me after having worked with the USFS and Wilderness Outreach.  These men, like Ed Pulaski and John Muir, were legends in my mind.  After reading the book, they became heroes.

I never realized that in the early 1900's the railroad and logging industries were treating these beautiful areas in the West and Northwest as a completely expendable resource.  They were basically raping and pillaging the land with no thought of future generations.  In fact, the ideas of conservation and preservation were completely foreign in that day.  Roosevelt and Pinchot worked against all odds, both in Congress and in the wild, to protect these wilderness areas.

The Great Fire of 1910, or The Big Burn as it is also known, was a forest fire of epic proportions.  The fire burned 3 million acres and killed 87 people with it's devastating hurricane force winds, flames, and smoke.  The newly formed USFS was grossly undermanned and underfunded.  The USFS rangers at the time worked hard to save not only the wilderness but the small towns as well often with little pay and a great deal of resistance from the inhabitants of the area.  The fire, which destroyed so much land and life, propelled the USFS and conservation into the spotlight.  When the rest of the nation heard the heroic stories of the rangers, public opinion moved to the side of conservation.  The Big Burn saved America by moving the people toward conservation and firmly establishing the USFS.

The Big Burn vividly recreates the disaster through the eyes of the men and women who experienced it, and does so with first-hand accounts.  I highly recommend this book!

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