Ghosts of the Fireground: Echoes of the Great Peshtigo Fire and the Calling of a Wildland Firefighter

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9780062517777: Ghosts of the Fireground: Echoes of the Great Peshtigo Fire and the Calling of a Wildland Firefighter

On October 8, 1871, a wildfire of staggering immensity transformed the lumbering town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin (population 2,000), into a literal, burning hell. It was the deadliest fire in North American history. At least 1,200 people died, and the actual number of fatalities is unknown. Eighteen hundred square miles of woods, fields, and settlements were burned. By cruel coincidence, it was the very day and hour of the Great Chicago Fire.... The unlikely simultaneity of the two infernos has rendered Peshtigo unknown to most Americans.

April 2000: On the brink of one of the most ferocious fire seasons ever recorded, and faced with the challenge of commanding an elite attack helicopter team, wildland firefighter Peter Leschak discovers Father Pernin's written account of surviving the wildfire that devastated Peshtigo. As he takes us through Father Pernin's dangerous clash with the Great Peshtigo Fire, Leschak recounts his journey from a life preparing for the ministry to a career dedicated to fighting fires. In so doing, he breathes life into one of the most astounding and little-known disasters in American history and captures the sacred and mysterious pull of the fireground. From Father Pernin's struggle with an inferno so hot that not even the cold waters of the Peshtigo River guaranteed safety to the danger of today's frontline battles in America's wildlands, Ghosts of the Fireground weaves seamlessly between these compelling adventures, offering a breathtaking look at the awesome power of fire and the courageous and noble pursuit that is wildland firefighting.

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About the Author:

Peter M. Leschak has been a firefighter in both wildland and municipal settings for more than twenty years. He's the author of several acclaimed works of nonfiction, including Letters from Side Lake and The Bear Guardian, winner of the Minnesota Book Award. Leschak has written for numerous periodicals, including Harper's, the New York Times Magazine, the New York Times Book Review, and Outdoor Life.

From Publishers Weekly:

What is it about their work that makes firefighters so devoted addicted, even to the calling? Leschak (Trial by Wildfire), a 20-year veteran wildfire fighter, attempts to answer this question in his contemplative memoir. He focuses primarily on the spring of 2000, when he led a helitack crew (a rapid-response helicopter unit) battling especially fierce and persistent wildfires in western Montana. That was also when Leschak discovered the diaries of Father Peter Pernin, a survivor of the 1871 fire that leveled Peshtigo, Wis. He threads the story of the Peshtigo fire throughout the book, along with other historical facts about American forest fires and the formation of a wildfire subculture. As he describes the dangers faced by his own team, the plainspoken, articulate Leschak explores the psychology and spirituality of fire fighting particularly the exhilaration of life-threatening situations citing sources as diverse as Carl Jung, Friedrich Nietzsche, William James and Walker Percy. Leschak had trained to become an evangelical minister in East Texas, and he recalls his conversion to evangelism at age 18, after listening to a radio preacher; his growing disillusionment with the narrow-mindedness of his Bible college; and his revelatory discovery of his true life's work. In spite of its prominence in the subtitle, the story of the Peshtigo fire is woven casually and sporadically into the book; those looking for a sustained history should turn to another book on the Peshtigo fire being publishing the same month (Firestorm at Peshtigo. Nonetheless, Leschak's action scenes crackle with energy, and his down-to-earth account of his spiritual quest should strike a chord with many.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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