Maclean, John N.
MACLEAN, John N.
PERSONAL: Son of Norman Maclean (a writer).
CAREER: Journalist, author, and editor. Chicago Tribune, reporter and Washington, DC, correspondent, c. 1964-95.
AWARDS, HONORS: Mountains and Plains Booksellers Association award for best nonfiction title, 1999, for Fire on the Mountain.
Fire and Ashes: On the Front Lines of AmericanWildfire, H. Holt (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor to Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean.
ADAPTATIONS: Fire on the Mountain was optioned for film and for a television documentary by the Arts & Entertainment television network.
SIDELIGHTS: For more than thirty years John N. Maclean worked as a writer, reporter, and editor at the Chicago Tribune, primarily as the newspaper's Washington, D.C., correspondent. However, in 1995 he resigned to write a book about the fire on Storm King Mountain. It was while sitting in his cubbyhole at the Chicago Tribune in the summer of 1994 that Maclean first got wind of the terror erupting on Storm King Mountain in Colorado. As the son of noted writer Norman Maclean, John was no stranger to the events that were unfolding; his father's classic Young Men and Fire, which occupied the last years of the elder Maclean's life, is a detailed examination of a 1949 fire that killed several firejumpers and alerted many American readers to the violence and force of the uncontrolled forest fire. The similarity between the two fires was not lost on son John, who resigned from the Tribune to focus his full attention on the topic that had so haunted his father.
Fire on the Mountain: The True Story of the South Canyon Fire details the events prior to, during, and after the deadly fire on Storm King Mountain in July of 1994. With a combination of thorough research and painstaking detail, Maclean recounts the events that led up to the fire and the firefighting efforts that ensued. The blaze was sparked during a thunderstorm on July 2, when more than 5,600 lightning strikes were reported to have hit the tinder-dry mountain located in Grand Junction, Colorado. It wasn't until the next morning that residents began to smell smoke, and local firefighters discovered a pine tree ablaze. That small tree fire soon evolved into what is known as a blowup: the small fire flashed into a wave of flame, engulfing everything in its path and gaining power with every second. "It swelled to a height of 50, 100, and then 150 feet," Maclean noted in his book. "It moved faster than any human could run—The flame wave began to break over the ridgetop, transforming the people into surfers riding the curl of a scarlet-orange wave of fire." Maclean also recounts the heroism of firefighters and the fourteen individuals who lost their lives while struggling to combat the fire that covered more than 2,100 acres. Gilbert Taylor noted in Booklist that "Maclean combines clinical detachment with solemn engagement with the fire fighters' fate for a finely wrought factual and emotive record," while in Library Journal Daniel D. Liestman praised Fire on the Mountain as "a gripping account of a . . . tragedy that probably could have been avoided."
In Fire and Ashes: On the Front Lines of American Wildfire, Maclean revisits various twentieth-century wildfires, discussing the decisions and actions that were organized in response to each blaze as well as the unpredictability of fire and the behavior of uncontained wildfires. In addition to discussing recent fires, Maclean revisits the Mann Gulch fire about which his father wrote, and talked with a survivor of that incident. While a reviewer for Publishers Weekly stated that Fire and Ashes appears "less unified" than Fire on the Mountain, the book is "held together not by a grand idea but primarily by the author's interest in aspects of fire." Praising Maclean for his thoroughly researched account, a reviewer for Kirkus Reviews commented that the author's "sharp descriptive analyses capture this atavistic force that charges across the human imagination in phenomenal and dreadful fashion."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Maclean, John N., Fire on the Mountain: The TrueStory of the South Canyon Fire, William Morrow (New York, NY), 1999.
Aspen Daily News, May 17, 2003, David Frey, "Book Shows Lessons Learned between Glenwood Fires."
Booklist, August, 1999, Gilbert Taylor, review of Fire on the Mountain: The True Story of the South Canyon Fire, p. 1999; March 15, 2000, Ted Hipple, review of Fire on the Mountain, p. 1396; May 1, 2003, Gilbert Taylor, review of Fire and Ashes: On the Front Lines of American Wildfire,
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2003, review of Fire andAshes, p. 590.
Library Journal, July, 1999, Daniel D. Liestman, review of Fire on the Mountain, p. 127.
Publishers Weekly, August 30, 1999, review of Fire on the Mountain, p. 60; March 19, 2001, John F. Baker, review of Fire on the Mountain, p. 16; April 7, 2003, review of Fire and Ashes, p. 53.
Smithsonian, April, 2000, review of Fire on the Mountain, p. 35.
Wildfire News Web site,http://www.wildfirenews.com/ (May 29, 2003).*