Kirkus Reviews QR Code
FIRE ON THE RIM: A Firefighter's Season in the Gra by Stephen J. Pyne

FIRE ON THE RIM: A Firefighter's Season in the Gra

By Stephen J. Pyne

ISBN: 1-55584-251-8
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson/Trafalgar

Forest fires are both the subject and the main characters in this mesmerizing account by a MacArthur Prize-winning professor who spent 15 summers as a "Longshot" firefighter. The result is a heady combination of poetic prose, analytic language (trees are "large fuels"), and ecological polemic directed at the bureaucratic infighting that afflicts the two great administrators of the nation's wilderness--the Park Service, for whom Pyne worked, and the National Forest. Pyne isn't out to tell heroic stories here. He captures the tedium that drives the Longshots and the SWFFs (Hopi and Navajo fire crews) to pray for smoke on the Grand Canyon's wild North Rim--smoke means fire, and fire means overtime pay, plus excitement. The descriptive passages that bring the reader up to speed on the nature of fire and park bureaucracy echo the tedium; these are punctuated by short, dramatic scenes of the crews chasing after reported fires. In two- and four-man teams, the Longshots plunge into the wilderness, racing to beat the National Forest crews; wearing rubber waterbladders, chain-saws, and other tools, dining off C-rations, they drive battered pickups as far as roads will allow, then dive into the brash and canyonland. Often they can't find the fire, or it's a false alarm. At other times, two men will single-handedly tame a potential holocaust with the Çlan of professional athletes. Pyne's outrage smoulders at the death-by-bureaucratic-fiat of any kind of intelligently organized firefighting program. The Park Service in particular comes off poorly--politicized, mismanaged by desk warriors so obsessed with their public image that they will halt a preventative burn program because it's too smoky and alarms the tourists. This dense but rewarding book should add a "large fuel" of its own to the debate over our endangered wilderness.