288 pages, 31 b/w photos
On September 1, 1894 two forest fires converged on the town of Hinckley, Minnesota, trapping over two thousand people. Daniel James Brown recounts the events surrounding the fire in Under a Flaming Sky, the most gripping and comprehensive chronicle of how the dramatic story unfolded. Whereas Oregon's famous Biscuit fire in 2002 took more than a week to burn its first 350,000 acres, the Hinckley fire did the same amount of damage in only five hours. The fire created its own weather, including hurricane-strength winds, bubbles of plasma-like glowing gas, and 200-foot-tall flames. In some instances, fire whirls, or tornadoes of fire, danced out from the main body of the fire, knocking down buildings and carrying flaming debris high into the sky. Temperatures reached 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit the melting point of steel.
As the fire surrounded the town, two railroads became the only means of escape. Both trains ran the gauntlet of fire. One train caught on fire from one end to the other. A heroic young African-American porter ran up and down the length of the train, reassuring the passengers even as the flames tore at their clothes. On the other train, the engineer refused to back out of town until the last possible minute of escape. In all, more than four hundred people died, leading to a revolution in forestry management practices and the birth of federal agencies that monitor and fight wildfires today.
"Illustrated with period pictures, this deft slice of regional history will attract disaster and weather buffs as well as fans of Norman Maclean's standout Young Men and Fire"
– Publisher's Weekly
"[a] worthy addition to this genre a compelling read the power of the stories and Brown's imaginative skill retelling them [pulls] us in"
– MN Star Tribune
"Riveting, moving, white-knuckle reading to rank with classic accounts of the perfect storm, Krakatoa, and other storied calamities"
Chapter One: Night Music
Chapter Two: Morning
Chapter Three: Home Sweet Home
Chapter Four: Something Wicked
Chapter Five: The Cauldron
Chapter Six: Ragnarok
Chapter Seven: Under the Stone
Chapter Eight: Into the Ring
Chapter Nine: Out of the Ashes
Chapter Ten: The Broken Season
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Daniel James Brown wrote the New York Times #1 bestseller The Boys in the Boat. He grew up with stories of the Hinckley firestorm ringing in his ears. His great-grandfather died in the fire, while his grandfather and great-grandmother escaped on a burning train. Brown retired from Microsoft Corporation. Before working at Microsoft, he taught writing at San Jose State University and Stanford University, and is the coauthor of two textbooks on writing. He lives in the country east of Redmond, Washington, with his wife and two daughters.