The epic forest fire of 1910 and how it kept massive business interests from strangling the nascent American conservation movement.
New York Times columnist and National Book Award winner Egan (The Worst Hard Times: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl, 2005, etc.) dissects the nation’s worst-ever forest fire and its aftermath. Erupting over two August days in the tinder-dry Bitterroot Mountains along the Idaho-Montana border, it consumed three million woodland acres, wiped out several railroad-junction towns and killed nearly 100 people, most of them temporary fire fighters and the U.S. Forest Service rangers who had hired them. Egan focuses his probing tale on two men, Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, who had met two decades before, finding they had wealthy families and a deep love of the outdoors in common. A third, Sierra Club founder John Muir, was a mentor and inspiration to both, but later broke away due to differences of opinion on policy matters. In the author’s accounting, the idea of conservation, as now generally accepted, was essentially launched from the relationship between Roosevelt and Pinchot. Roosevelt proved crucial in many endeavors. He set aside, as Egan writes, “an area roughly the size of France” as public-domain national forest in the West and appointed Pinchot as founding director of the Forest Service, which was then an agency with no authority that faced nearly total public antipathy, including that of the powerful timber and railroad barons. The “Big Burn,” however, during which undermanned ranks of rangers were dying in the last line of defense, drastically changed public sentiment.
Essential for any Green bookshelf.