THE BURNING by Richard Snow


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From an editor of American Heritage--a vividly visual recreation of an historical incident: the absolute destruction of an 1894 Minnesota lumber town by September fires. The town is Hinckley--which has hundreds of small fires every September, giving off a pall, even burning a barn or two, but nothing to worry about. Certainly young Tom Dunn, the town telegrapher at the depot, isn't worried about fire as much as he is about Betty Langdon, the town beauty whose heart's set on him. And Fire Chief Craig is happy with his big spanking 300 gallon pumper which has just arrived by flatcar. But all of a sudden the day is dark, with horses coughing endlessly, everyone cranky, and little seed fires dropping on stacked lumber. Then: a train shack bursts into flame, a string of freights and railroad ties light up spontaneously. Men die instantly, axes in hand. Topsoil and roots in the ground burn, turn into clay. Townspeople trying to cram aboard a train burst into flame one by one; a team arrives with burning horses. Tom dies, pounding messages into a dead line. Salesman Scott Keegan tries to save Betty as smoking earth gives off balls of fire. Some folks save themselves in the gravel pit lake while Keegan and Betty ride six miles in a burning train to Skunk Lake through black smoke and stand in muck under monstrous yellow walls of flame. The fire past, they return and find Hinckley ashes, but Keegan looks forward to a hardware business and Betty's interest. . . . Brilliantly evocative, with homely smalltown period detail, and the fire tension and eerie images could hardly be bettered: historical re-enactment at its most convincing and affecting.

Pub Date: July 7th, 1981
Publisher: Doubleday