The Fire Line by Fernanda Santos
In 2013, 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots died fighting a fire outside of Yarnell, Arizona. One, working as a lookout, survived. Many children – some not yet born – were left without fathers, parents lost their sons, and in the end, a town lost its brothers.
I picked up this book thinking I’d learn a little bit more about what happened on that day, but in reality that day (despite the blurbs on the back) doesn’t seem to take up much of the book at all. Only about 30 of the 225 pages are about that day; the rest of the book focuses on providing an explanation of how wildfire fighting works, and introducing us to the men who comprised the Granite Mountain Hotshots. After the description of the fire, the author then turns to talking about how some of the families have been able to move forward with their lives.
The storytelling is great – Ms. Santos is clearly a very talented writer. But I felt that the book could have been longer and more in-depth. I appreciate that she wasn’t focused on assigning blame, but there was really no analysis of the reasons why the situation came about. She doesn’t hold back in her descriptions of some decisions, but unlike, say, Five Days at Memorial, in this book I just didn’t get the sense of strong journalistic analysis. That’s a real bummer, since Ms. Santos is a journalist, and I really feel like we all would benefit from some analysis in this book.
She does, however, at least touch on the super fucked-upedness of the majority of these men not being full-time, benefited employees (your jaw may drop at the base wages they earn), and the fact that in government, despite what some folks may say, the focus is always on trying to save more money, cut more costs, and that can come at a price – both to the individuals working for the government and the communities they are hired to protect.
This book is more like a biography of 19 people and their families, which is lovely, but not what I thought I was getting from this book. The stories Ms. Santos tells of the families are sweet and interesting, but with 19 men and their families to discuss, each one feels like it is clipped, so we don’t really get to know any of them very well.
If you find wildfire fighting interesting, and if you generally enjoy books on topics such as emergencies and disasters, I think you’ll find this a worthwhile read.