The Book

“The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt & The Fire That Saved America”
By Timothy Egan

The story of the nation’s biggest wildfire – an apocalyptic blaze that burned an area the size of Connecticut in a weekend. No living person had ever seen a fire with the ferocity, speed, and destructive power of the Big Burn of 1910. Equally dramatic is the larger story of Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, and the creation myth of the U.S. Forest Service.

On the afternoon of August 20, 1910, a battering ram of wind moved through the drought-stricken nation forests of Washington, Idaho and Montana, whipping the hundreds of small blazes burning across the forest floor into a roaring inferno. Forest rangers had assembled nearly ten thousand men – college boys, day workers, immigrants from mining camps – to fight the fire. But no living person had seen anything like those flames, and neither the rangers nor anyone else knew how to subdue them.

Timothy Egan narrates the struggles of the overmatched rangers against the inplacable fire with unstoppable dramatic force. Equally dramatic is the larger story he tells of outsize president Teddy Roosevelt and his chief forester, Gifford Pinchot. Pioneering the notion of conservation, Roosevelt and Pinchot did nothing less than create the idea of public land as our national treasure, owned by and preserved for every citizen.

The Big Burn is a New York Times bestseller and winner of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award and the Washington State Book Award.

Get the Book

Available at all public libraries in Bellingham and Whatcom County, or purchase it from your favorite local independent book store, Village Books!

Author Timothy Egan

Timothy Egan with lake and hills in background

Timothy Egan comes from a family of nine, from a mother who loved books and a father with the Irish gift of finding joy in small things.  He worked on a farm, in a factory, and at a fast-food outlet while muddling through nearly seven on-and-off years of college.

He is the author of eight books. His most recent book, The Immortal Irishman, was a New York Times bestseller. His book on Edward Curtis, Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher, was awarded the Carnegie Award for best nonfiction. His account of the Dust Bowl, The Worst Hard Time, won the 2006 National Book Award, considered one of the nation’s highest literary honors, and he was featured prominently in the 2012 Ken Burns film on the Dust Bowl.

A lifelong journalist, Egan now writes an online opinion column for The New York Times. Prior to that,  Egan worked as a national correspondent for the Times, roaming the West. As a Times correspondent, he shared a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 with a team of reporters for its series, “How Race is Lived in America.”

A graduate of the University of Washington, Egan also holds honorary doctorates from Whitman College, Willamette University, Lewis and Clark College, and Western Washington University. A third-generation Westerner and father of two, Egan lives in Seattle.

More Information

Timothy Egan photo above by Lisa Howe Verhovek