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Fire on the Mountain: The True Story of the South Canyon Fire
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Fire on the Mountain: The True Story of the South Canyon Fire

4.06  ·  Rating Details ·  674 Ratings  ·  61 Reviews
In 1994, a wildfire on Colorado's Storm King Mountain was wrongly identified at the outset as occurring in South Canyon.

This unintentional, seemingly minor human error was the first in a string of mistakes that would be compounded into one of the greatest tragedies in the annals of firefighting. Before it was done, fourteen courageous firefighters—men and women, hotshots,
Paperback, 304 pages
Published December 8th 2009 by Harper Perennial (first published 1999)
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Sky had turned red…smoke was boiling/Two hundred yards to safety, death was fifty yards behind/I don’t know why…I just thought it/I struck a match to waist high grass running out of time…
-- from Cold Missouri Waters*

In James Keelaghan’s mournful ballad about the 1949 Mann Gulch fire, he takes the point of view of Wag Dodge, the surviving foreman of an elite group of smokejumpers, thirteen of whom died on the mountain. In the song, Dodge is dying of cancer just a few years after the blowup. He is
Oct 12, 2015 Judy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This non-fiction book has been on my shelf since 2000. We bought it from the author when he spoke at a Fire Department Awards Banquet. My husband has read it, he was a volunteer fireman for 20 years and on the Honor Guard of our local county fire department.

I really enjoyed reading this book. I know the outcome of the South Canyon Fire near Glenwood Springs CO. I remember the summer of 1994. John McLean did a great job of piecing the puzzle together from all the agency reports, the survivor int
Jul 08, 2009 Brian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this book on the 15th anniversary of the South Canyon Fire, better known as Storm King Mountain. The book tells the story of the intense fire blow up that caused the death of fifteen smokejumpers, hot shots, and helitack crews in one of the worst firefighting disasters in modern history. Maclean uses his investigative journalism skills (he was a reporter and editor for the Chicago Tribune) to go behind the scenes and dig into the root causes of the events. By doing so, he is able to find ...more
Katherine Addison
The fire on Storm King Mountain in July 1994 (which has gone down to posterity as the South Canyon Fire due to a mistake that feels--with the perfect vision of hindsight--like an omen of all the snowballing mistakes to come) was a clusterfuck of epic proportions. It is also eerily similar to the Mann Gulch fire of 1949 (written about so brilliantly by John Maclean's father Norman Maclean in Young Men and Fire that I have never yet managed to write anything coherent about why I think it is the be ...more
Jessica Moran
Mar 28, 2015 Jessica Moran rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Maybe I shouldn't have read this book just before my husband returns to his summer job as a wildland firefighter, right at the end of one of the driest winters ever in our area of Utah. I do feel like I have a better understanding of what he is experiencing during those weeks he's away. This story was factual, informative and riveting. Well written. And heartbreaking.
This book is a summary and account of a wildfire that took place in western Colorado during the summer of 1994. This fire killed over a dozen firefighters including a number of women and the substance of the book is to document the errors in judgement, the folly of the agencies involved and the pure bad luck and timing of weather and judgement that led to this disaster. This is not entertainment, it is a tedious documentary of the facts as related to the author of this tragic situation. I believ ...more
Nov 10, 2008 A.G. rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
John's father (Norm) did a great job of explaing the fire situation and the decisions made by firefighters on the Mann Gulch fire (see young Men and Fire). In Fire On the Mountain, this book seemed to target blaming people rather than learning why and the research behind the fire activity.

I would have loved more detail on the smokejumpers who deployed and survived-- and why that worked. Or on Longanecker and where he went-- could that have been a viable option for those who ran if it was better
Sep 13, 2012 heidi rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: paper, re-read, reviewed
I like reading failure analysis books. I think understanding the complex moving parts that seem so small in the moment and add up makes me a better writer, possibly a more conscientious person.

This book is a narrative about bad decisions that seemed only a little bad at the time, and added up to something catastrophic. The weather, the decision-making structure, the equipment, the decisions on the ground, they all added up to something that we call an accident. And it was an accident, in many wa
Marva Jones
May 07, 2015 Marva Jones rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A horrifying tale of tragedy the made me sick to my stomach, yet I could not stop reading. The staggering amount of miscommunication, poor judgement and lack of cooperation between government agency officials is disgusting, and cost 14 people their lives. I have a new appreciation for the men and women who fight wildland fire. It takes a huge amount of courage, physical strength and endurance. Fire fighting is tough enough... but to do it while climbing rugged, remote terrain, surrounded by fire ...more
May 26, 2014 Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I received this book from my supervisor who gave it to the entire Forest leadership team. As the fire season gets started it's a reminder of so many things that can happen when people drop their guard, make assumptions, and don't speak out. It's also poignant tribute to 14 lives lost nearly 20 years ago; in less than two months the actual anniversary date will be here. I went to college with one of the helitack and I now work for the forest that lost so many.

The book contains excellent descripti
Jeffrey Williams
Mar 13, 2016 Jeffrey Williams rated it it was amazing
I first heard of the South Canyon Fire and the story of the Hotshot Crew and Smokejumpers who died on Storm King Mountain when I went through Wildland Firefighting training back in 1996. At the time, the incident was still freshly implanted in everybody's mind. Though some of the official reports had been filed and a reinforcement of the fire safety rules was at the forefront of the training, the story of what happened on that mountain had only been partially told at that time. With John N. MacL ...more
On July 2, 1994 7 miles west of Glenwood Springs, Colorado near the base of the Storm King Mountain lighting sparked a fire. The fire became a concern for the residents of Canyon Creek Estates so on July 5 firefighters were sent into the rugged terrain along with smokejumpers. Due to "danger from rolling rocks" the fight was called off in the night. On July 6 Hotshots out of Prineville, Oregon joined the efforts to battle the quick moving fire. The fire got ahead of the fire-line,14 Firefighters ...more
Aug 15, 2012 Longfellow rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Norman Maclean wrote A River Runs Through It, which is perhaps my favorite novella. In his lifetime, he wrote only one other book, Young Men and Fire, an account of one of the most tragic wildfires in American history (the Mann Gulch Fire in Montana in 1949), which was published posthumously. John Maclean is Norman’s son; thus my interest in this book in which Maclean continues his father’s connection to and interest in the firefighting community.

The subtitle of John Maclean’s book is “The True
John Branney
Jul 12, 2016 John Branney rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a well written book that reads like a good novel, but is about one of the worst firefighting tragedies in the American West. The author does an excellent job placing you in the shoes of the firefighters and victims. The author also does not pull any punches when it comes to assigning responsibility to the government agencies that could have prevented this travesty by not bickering over resources when the fire first emerged. It just goes to show, you, give the government something to do a ...more
May 12, 2015 JuliaK rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book interesting mostly because I lived near the fire, and drove past it on the interstate along the river each day. But there's no way not to compare this book to Norman Maclean's "Young Men and Fire," and the son suffers by comparison.

There are similarities between the two fires, and if you gave any interest in wildfires, forest issues, or smokejumpers ( like the Prineville crew that jumped on South Canyon), both books are worth reading.
Aug 06, 2012 mark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm re-reading this b/c of the resent catastrophic wildfires in Colorado that destroyed 600 homes on the eastern front range. There were 9 fires burning in the state at the time (2012) and it seemed like the governments' actions were fast and efficient - unlike what went on in 1994 in Colorado when 38 fires were burning on July 4th; but none nearly as large or catastrophic as what was going on here in June of 2012. Now, it seemed as though there was no lack of resources (firefighters, engines, t ...more
Aug 07, 2016 Lee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Reading this was tough--I knew one of the firefighters who died on Storm King Mountain. The research was good and the presentation credible. Maclean's style drew me right in. I could smell the smoke and hear the roar of the firestorm as it rushed toward my friend. The images the author depicted remain behind my eyes.
Charles M.
True story of the South Canyon Fire in Colorado during 1994 in which 14 firefighters lost their lives. Interesting in that the subsequent investigation was botched (after similar errors occurred in an earlier forest fire in 1949).
A real page turner. I couldn't put it down. He tells the story in a clear, spare style, building up the suspense and tension like a brewing dry-lightning storm.

His father (Norman) wrote "Young Men and Fire," but I think John's books are even better.
What a sad and preventable tragedy. Having just read the Mann Gulch book, I was mentally screaming at people through much of this book, but it is a fascinating account of the fire on Storm King Mountain.
Aug 08, 2010 Janice rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Janice by: Carol Connolly
Shelves: biography, nonfiction
Just before reading this book, I read Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean (John's father) about the 1949 Mann Gulch fire that killed smokejumpers. Norman's writing spoke to me more than John's did. Both stories are minutes count between life and death running from a wild land fire blowup. The Storm King Mountain events killed Prineville wild land fire fighters, and I feel grief and sorrow thinking about the people and their families. They certainly will never be forgotten he ...more
Peter M. B.
Oct 12, 2015 Peter M. B. rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adventure
I tried to read this book ages ago. Never got very far into it as I found it essentially unreadable despite the compelling subject matter.
Kent Anderson
Dec 21, 2014 Kent Anderson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating book about the fire in Colorado in 1994. Even though the book is about fire fighting, there is application to many other things in life
Mar 27, 2016 Ayelet rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first part of the book about the actual fire was the most interesting, the second part about the politics afterward less so.
Dec 30, 2009 Wendy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A friend gave me this to read - he was a firefighter that arrived at the scene 2 hours after the blow up on the 6th. I do not have my red card and only have been involved with small prescribed fires.

I wanted more information and stories from the surviving smoke jumpers and hot shots. I also would have liked more information on the fire. Additional maps and diagrams would have been helpful. I am also a government employee so i totally can see and relate to the cluster ---- that happened there.

Nov 14, 2014 Jamie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Hard to read, heartbreaking. But worth understanding in order to honor those who died and never repeat.
Joan Young
Jul 06, 2014 Joan Young rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating story. Gives me a whole new respect for those firefighters. Also got educated on how a wildfire can behave. Also got angry about how some of our government agencies interact--or don't. (This is a new concept?????). It was sort of hard to keep the people & locations straight, but the map at the front helped. Also enjoyed the photos included.
Jul 21, 2013 Nanette rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is well written book that chronicles the decisions that ultimately culminated in the death of 14 on what is known as the South Canyon Fire in 1994. It is a very thorough examination of the players involved in the incident.

Knowing that the story was about a group of firefighters that were killed, I began the book already dreading what I knew was going to happen. It is such a tragic story that ultimately comes down to ego and communication failures. I read this book because of my involvement
Sep 04, 2011 Kari rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2011
Since the book is about the fateful Storm King Mountain Fire in Glenwood Springs and the 14 firefighters who die there, I should have been prepared for the men and women to meet their deaths, but it still made me teary when they described the bodies on the mountain. Maclean researches the events of the fire of July 1994. With the gift of hindsight, one can speculate "if only" and wish that the tragedies didn't have to happen....Now I want to visit the mountain and the memorial created to honor t ...more
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John Norman Maclean is a prize-winning author and journalist, has published four books on fatal wildland fires.

Maclean was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1943, the second of two children.Maclean is the son of Norman Maclean, author of the novella A River Runs Through It.

He attended the Chicago school system through high school and graduated from Shimer College, then in Mt. Carroll, Illinois, a for
More about John N. Maclean...

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