In Ahead of the Flaming Front, Jerry D. Mathes II takes readers into the heart of wildfires from the forests of Idaho to the deserts of the Mexican border – and directly into the lives of the men and women who face the terror, beauty, and hardship of life on the fire line. His story testifies to their extraordinary camaraderie, forged by thunderstorms that scatter lightning and hail, high summer heat and shivering nights in which bears prowl through wilderness camps, and quiet days of reflection, waiting for what may come next.
With a poet's lyricism, Mathes tells of the life and death of friends, of negotiating the bureaucracy of the federal fire service, and of the rivalry of competing agencies. He wistfully describes the weighty absence of his daughters as they grow up and the desperate feeling of failure even as he appears to be succeeding. Readers live alongside Mathes as he grows from a stunned rookie trembling under arcing flames into a seasoned member of the training cadre. His life comes full circle when he brings his hard-won field experience back to the classroom, giving his students the tools to work and survive in the chaotic world of wilderness wildfires.
Jerry D. Mathes II fought wildfires for fourteen seasons. He is a Jack Kent Cooke Scholar alumnus and author of The Journal West: Poems and an essay collection, Fever and Guts: A Symphony. He has taught writing at the University of Idaho and at the Southernmost Writers Workshop in the World at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, Antarctica.