A fire to make The Hunger Games look tame

The new movie blockbuster, The Hunger Games, turns out to be shockingly good. Not because it's futuristic — with a little magic, it could easily have been set in ancient times. Not because it stars a teenager, or a young woman; the same story could be told through a male perspective, if less imaginatively. But simply because it's a great story: mesmerizing, suspenseful, surprising. 

The movie includes a brush with a forest fire — a moment of real terror: 

Hunger-games-katniss_400

But this movie fire cannot compare in magnitude to the real fire that burned through much of Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana  in l910, a story brilliantly told in Timothy Egan's great book The Big Burn

Here's how Egan describes this fire, as it exploded from Idaho into Montana, eastern Washington state, back towards Glacier National Park, and across the border into British Columbia. 

…the wall of flame took over the forest, hundreds of feet high, at least thirty miles wide in some parts, and still gaining strength, still fanning out, consuming oxygen in heaves, and picking up intensity as its core temperature rose. The firest was a classic convection engine now: heat rising, pulling the hottest elements upward, a gyro of spark and flame. After racing through the Clearwater and Nez Perce forests, leveling nearly all living things in the Kelly Clark region, the fire swept up trees at the highest elevations. At this altitude, along the spine of the Bitterroots, the wind moved without obstruction, and the fire itself threw brands ten miles ahead of the flame front. The storm found the Montana border and spit flames down into the heavily settled Bitterroot Valley. It found the Lolo forest and crossed over the pass and along the summits, jumping ridgeline to ridgeline. At the peak of its power, it found the Coeur d'Alene forest, leading with a punch of wind that knocked down thousands of trees before the flames took out the rest of the woods. By now, the conscripted air…was a firestorm of hurricane-force winds, in excess of eighty miles an hour. What had been nearly three thousand small fires throughout a three-state region of the northern Rockies had grown into a single large burn. 

An incredible fire that led to extraordinary heroism, and the Forest Service as we know it today. 

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