Friday, October 4, 2013

Book Review: Under a Flaming Sky

This was another book I had to ask my mother-in-law to bring from her library.  Sheila, at The Deliberate Reader, recommended this book about the Hinckley, Minnesota firestorm of 1894.  It sounded so fascinating that I had to seek it out and read it.  It was a thoroughly absorbing book, full of information about fires, burns, PTSD, and the events of that fateful day for a small town in Minnesota.

Under a Flaming Sky reads like a story, weaving historical research into a cohesive tale.  This is the kind of research and storytelling I would love to do.  It must have been so interesting to pore over the facts and details and then put the whole together into a piece for others to read and experience vicariously.

On September 1, 1894, the small town of Hinckley, Minnesota, woke not realizing that, for many of its residents, life would soon be over, and for the others, life would never be the same.  A forest fire, working from two directions, converged on the town of 1200 people in such a swift manner that the flames burst 200 feet in the air, temperatures reached 1600 degrees, and large gas bubbles floated, igniting any flammable thing in their path.  There wasn't even time to outrun the fire on the train. One train became engulfed in flames even as it tried to escape this terrifying ordeal.  For many of the survivors, life was saved by contact with small bodies of water in the form of ponds, lakes, and swamps. Moreover, even after the fire had abated, the injured were stuck in town because the railroad bridges had burned to the ground.  They had to travel out of the area on badly damaged feet and through great spasms of pain.  Burn treatment was quite primitive still and many who may have survived the fire, succumbed to complications after being burned. In all, around 400 lost their lives.

This was such a detailed account of events on that day that the reader actually feels they are experiencing the fire right alongside the people of that day.  It was so terrifying, I found myself reading snippets aloud to my husband. The author's own grandfather, a survivor, would waken screaming, years after the events of that day.  The story is full of intense drama.  I read it in the space of 24 hours and its story is still lingering in my brain.  This easy read is sure to keep you spell-bound.

As an aside, I also found it interesting that one of the individuals mentioned in the tale shares my maiden surname.  Perhaps, this was an ancestor of mine I am unaware of, since my family hails from Wisconsin/Minnesota areas. If I ever find myself in Minnesota, near Hinckley, I may try to squeeze in a visit to the Hinckley Fire Museum.


Sheila @ The Deliberate Reader said...

I'm so glad you liked it! This book is actually my least favorite of his three - and that's not because I didn't like it, but because I liked the other two so much. I love his writing.

Wendy said...

Yes, Sheila, it was absorbing. Perhaps I'll try one of his others, although I checked and my library doesn't have anything by him. There's always visits from my m-I-l! I know her library has the Boys in a Boat book and perhaps one other.