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The Big Burn by Timothy Egan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Review by Mark Leighton

President Theodore Roosevelt started the US Forest service.  But it was not without a lot of opposition.  The first big test for the US Forest service was a fire that started on August 20, 1910 and burned parts of Washington, Idaho and Montana.  The underfunded Rangers tried to fight the fire and failed as the winds over the drought-stricken forest was just too fast, too intense! Yet the bravery of the rangers turned public opinion in favor of the US Forest service. 

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This is an interesting historical story full of interesting characters like President Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, the first head of the Department of US Forestry.  Both of these men, had a vision about preserving the natural resources from the greed of timber barons. 

One of the unfortunate consequences of this episode is that it made complete fire suppression the goal of the US Forest service.  Even though Pinchot knew that fire has benefits for the forest, is essential for some trees to reproduce, the stated policy was to put out all fires.  It took a long time before this policy was modified.  Now the forest service allows some fires to burn and even does some controlled burns to manage the forest.