Under a Flaming Sky by Daniel James Brown

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Well I’m certainly going to be nice to Forest Rangers after reading this.

Quick synopsis: The story of the 1894 firestorm in Hinckley, Minnesota which burned 350,000 acres in 5 hours and killed over 400 people.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Think it’s safe to jump in a well if you see a fire coming? You would be wrong. The fire will suck out all the oxygen and asphyxiate you. Some people in Hinckley found out the hard way.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: The fire was so strong it began to make its own weather including fire tornados. Yes, you read that correctly.

My Take: I had never heard of the Great Hinckley Fire. This is one of those history books that is screaming for a movie. The setup is right out of a hacky screenplay. Quiet logging town out in the center of the country. Wholesome people just doing what they can to make ends meet.

The logging town detail is crucial. We know now that the way logging was done in the 1800s created the perfect storm for a vicious fire to wipe out entire towns. In this case, that is exactly what happened.

Brown’s book gives you everything to truly feel everything that happens in the book. The sense of dread as the fire moves towards town. The panic as people begin to realize what they are up against. Most importantly, Brown highlights the many heroes who do absolutely incredible things under the worst of circumstances. This includes a train engineer who nearly dies holding the train as long as possible in order to save the maximum amount of people.

Everyone should have heard this story and I don’t know many people who have.

Verdict: An amazing book about a disaster you’ve probably never heard of before. It reads like a movie.

If You Liked This Try:

  • Timothy Egan, The Big Burn
  • Stewart O’Nan, The Circus Fire
  • Denise Gess and William Lutz, Firestorm at Peshtigo
  • Ed O’Donnell, Ship Ablaze
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Under a Flaming Sky by Daniel James Brown
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