An intimate account of what it means to be a female wildland firefighter.
Essayist and novelist Emerick (The Geography of Water, 2015) dissects the passion that kept her on the fire line for more than 20 years. Just out of college in the mid-1980s, she traveled to Olympic National Park for a summer job. Insecure but seeking to break out of her shell, she accepted an assignment on the fire line during an especially nasty fire season. Though not convinced firefighting was the right path, Emerick imagined the new self that would result from the excitement and stress of the job: “The person I imagined I would become by fighting fire was someone better: tan, long-braided, self-sufficient, strong.” The author’s choice led to two decades of fighting fires in multiple states, all the while absorbing the incredible sights, smells, and sounds of fire. Emerick vividly recounts the extremely taxing physical requirements, the deadly conditions firefighters consistently endure, and the ever present lure of adventure and camaraderie each fire provides. The author explores the implications of working in a male-dominated field and how that environment has improved during her tenure. She also shares her knowledge of different species of trees and how each burns as well as the tools and equipment needed to fight fires. Crisscrossing the country with the seasons, the author fought fires in the Western U.S during the summer and worked winters in the Florida swamps. Emerick is candid about her work’s toll on unfulfilled romances and a broken marriage. After years as a firefighter, Emerick questions the environmental policy of snuffing out all fires and “whether all this firefighting was really good for the forest, if it might not better just to let it burn.”
A moving and bittersweet memoir of a woman’s love affair with a unique profession.