What I’m Reading: Under a Flaming Sky

I just finished up the book Under the Flaming Sky by Daniel James Brown.

I picked this book completely and totally because of the book cover.  I know they say don’t read a book by its cover, but I did.  Do you see the words under the title?  It says “The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894”.

Well, I have relatives in a town called Hinckley Minnesota.  Growing up, my grandma lived there…well actually out in the country but Hinckley was her address.  I have cousins as well as two uncles and an aunt that still live there.  I was immediately curious if the “Hinckley” on the book title was the same Hinckley where my relatives live.

I vaguely remembered driving by a fire museum when we visited but didn’t know any more than that…so I was hoping this story was about the area where my family lives.

It was.

I ended up listening to this book over the course of one day.  It was good but it’s not a book that everyone will love.  There’s no romance…nothing flowery and pretty sad.  It’s more like a documentary of what happened…but not dry and dull.  It still totally kept me wanting to listen longer.

I think my family moved to the area in the 1950s, long after any of this happened.  I couldn’t help but wonder if the farms my family owned were in the fire zone.  So that lead me down a rabbit hole and found me at the Hinckley Fire Museum website.  You can find it HERE if you are curious…and that led me to message my cousin.

Being you all don’t have the family Hinckley connection, I don’t know if you’d love the book as much as I did.  Still, I recommend giving it a try if you are at all interested in the reasons forestry laws were written or if you want to read and learn more about a part of American history.

Here is what Amazon had to say:
On September 1, 1894, two forest fires converged on the town of Hinckley, Minnesota, trapping over 2,000 people. Daniel J. Brown recounts the events surrounding the fire in the first and only book to chronicle the dramatic story that unfolded.

On September 1, 1894, two forest fires converged on the town of Hinckley, Minnesota, trapping over 2,000 people. Daniel J. Brown recounts the events surrounding the fire in the first and only book to chronicle the dramatic story that unfolded.

Whereas Oregon’s famous “Biscuit” fire in 2002 burned 350,000 acres in one week, the Hinckley fire did the same damage in five hours. The fire created its own weather, including hurricane-strength winds, bubbles of plasmalike glowing gas, and 200-foot-tall flames. In some instances “fire whirls”, or tornadoes of fire, danced out from the main body of the fire to knock down buildings and carry flaming debris into the sky. Temperatures reached 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit – the melting point of steel.

As the fire surrounded the town, two railroads became the only means of escape. Two trains ran the gauntlet of fire. One train caught on fire from one end to the other. The heroic young African American porter ran up and down the length of the train, reassuring the passengers even as the flames tore at their clothes. On the other train, the engineer refused to back his locomotive out of town until the last possible minute of escape. In all, more than 400 people died, leading to a revolution in forestry management practices and federal agencies that monitor and fight wildfires today.

Author Daniel Brown has woven together numerous survivors’ stories, historical sources, and interviews with forest fire experts in a gripping narrative that tells the fascinating story of one of North America’s most devastating fires and how it changed the nation.”

Amazon readers gave this book 4.6 stars.  I’m going to agree.  Obviously, the book kept my attention as I listened to it over the course of a single day.   It just amazes me and terrifies me that a tragedy like this can happen so quickly.

If you are interested, you can find the book HERE.

12 thoughts on “What I’m Reading: Under a Flaming Sky”

  1. The book sounds very interesting. It is hard to imagine fire doing so much damage in such a short span of time. And thinking about the lack of equipment to fight such a fire at that time in history. I think I need to read this. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Linda in NE Connecticut

    Thank you for your review. This sounds like a book both my husband and I would enjoy reading.
    I was surprised to discover on-line that a library less than 10 miles away has a copy!

  3. The Hinckley Fire museum is incredible to visit. I have been ther and I will need to read this book

  4. Judith M Fairchild

    Wow! Just the discription was enough to want to read the book. So devastating to have lived through. No wonder the country actually worked together to make changes for a safer way to live. I’ll probably get the book.

  5. I read with interest your description and the Amazon one, I live in Australia, and bushfires are a reality every Summer. They are getting worse, both in terms of area affected and the amount of damage to property, and lives lost. Because of that, I can relate to this book, although I don’t know if we’ve experienced anything quite as bad as what is described here, but it would be not far off. Actually I would be interested to read the book myself. I know us Aussies have helped you guys with your bushfires and you’ve done the same for us. It’s great how we can help each other, thank you.

  6. This is one of my favorite books. I have bought three copies, as they don’t make it back to me after loaning them out! I don’t believe it’s solely because I live in the area. I thoroughly enjoy the author’s writing style. Boys in the Boat and An Indifferent Sky were both very good as well. I’m about to read his newest book. P.s. after I’d read Under A Flaming Sky, we went to the fire museum. My kids great great grandpa’s telegraph key is on display!

  7. I also have relatives in Hinckley. We have been there many times and heard about the fire. I am looking forward to reading the book.

  8. Marla Swanson

    A very good book with accurate details. I have been to the Hinckley Fire Museum several times. I grew up in Mora (20 miles from Hinckley) hearing stories about the fire as I grew up. I have relatives in Brook Park, halfway between Mora and Hinckley. Brook Park was also destroyed in the same fire. Recently I attended a funeral there and visited their cemetery with a smaller fire monument. When you drive through the area and see the tall trees, it’s amazing to think it had all burned in such a large area.

  9. Marla Swanson

    A great book with accurate details. I grew up in Mora (20 miles from Hinckley) hearing all the stories about that fire. I have relatives in Brook Park (located between the two towns. That area was destroyed in the fire too. I recently attended a funeral with the burial at the Brook Park Cemetery. I hadn’t know there was a smaller fire monument/memorial there too. I’ve been to the museum in Hinckley several times. It’s amazing what the people of that time went through to survive. The book is a very interesting read even if you aren’t from the area.

  10. I find Daniel Brown an amazing author. About 5 minuets before reading your post I ordered another Daniel Brown book, “Facing the Mountain” to send to someone because I found it so good. Also loved his book “Boys in the Boat”.

  11. We listened to this on our way to Iowa for a family reunion. How interesting and scary. Can’t imagine.

  12. I followed your suggestion and borrowed this book. Had to special order it. I LOVED IT. Read like a novel even tho it was a factual retelling of fire and events. I was impressed the author had a family connection as well.

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