Book Review: Under a Flaming Sky

Under a Flaming SkyUnder a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894 by Daniel James Brown by Daniel James Brown.

Perhaps if you’re from the upper midwest, the Hinckley Firestorm is something you hear about growing up. I’d never heard of it, but had heard such good things about Daniel James Brown’s books that I happily started this one when his most recent was not yet available from the library.

Brown does a fantastic job of bringing to life the events surrounding the devastating fire. He focuses on a handful of individuals, as a way to personalize what would otherwise be an overwhelming number of accounts of death and suffering.

I can’t recommend the book without reservations however: the story is horrific. Some of the images he describes are almost incomprehensibly terrifying and tragic. If you’re at all squeamish or reluctant to read heart-wrenching books, stay far away.

For my tastes, there is perhaps a tiny bit too much about the technical side of fires so I ended up skimming a few sections a bit. It’s easy to do so, and didn’t keep me from following the the story. There is also information about weather forecasting and burn treatments that I found fascinating.

In the introduction, you learn that Brown became interested in the story because his grandfather was one of the survivors of the firestorm. Knowing the family connection makes it more astonishing to me that he was able to research and write this book, because of how devastating it was to his ancestors.

Highly recommended, but with serious cautions for sensitive readers.

Publisher’s Description:
On September 1, 1894, two forest fires converged on the town of Hinckley, Minnesota, trapping more than two thousand people. The fire created its own weather, including hurricane-strength winds, bubbles of plasma-like glowing gas, and 200-foot-tall flames. As temperatures reached 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit, the firestorm knocked down buildings and carried flaming debris high into the sky. Two trains—one with every single car on fire—became the only means of escape. In all, more than four hundred people would die, leading to a revolution in forestry management and the birth of federal agencies that monitor and fight wildfires.

A spellbinding account of danger, devastation, and courage, Under a Flaming Sky reveals the dramatic, minute-by-minute story of the tragedy and brings into focus the ordinary citizens whose lives it irrevocably marked.

Book Details

Title: Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894 by Daniel James Brown
Author: Daniel James Brown
Category: Nonfiction / History
My Rating: 4 Stars

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  1. Your description of this book (and your previous review of “Under A Flaming Sky”) reminds me of “The Children’s Blizzard” by David Laskin. This isn’t a new book (it’s at least ten years old), but I still remember reading it and being rivetted to the author’s excellent account of the horrific 1888 blizzard that claimed the lives of over 500 people (many of them children) on the prairies–while, at the same time, feeling quite squeamish about his descriptions of what actually happens to a person’s body when they freeze to death. With that disclaimer, I highly recommend it!

    • I read that one! I do think both of the Daniel James Brown books are similar in that sense of horrible story / fascinating read.

  2. Oops–meant to refer to your previous review of “Indifferent Sky”!


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