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Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894 (2006)

de Daniel James Brown

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3421475,484 (4.24)52
History. Nonfiction. HTML:

On September 1, 1894 two forest fires converged on the town of Hinckley, Minnesota, trapping over 2,000 people. Daniel J. Brown recounts the events surrounding the fire in the first and only book on to chronicle the dramatic story that unfolded. Whereas Oregon's famous "Biscuit" fire in 2002 burned 350,000 acres in one week, the Hinckley fire did the same damage in five hours. The fire created its own weather, including hurricane-strength winds, bubbles of plasma-like glowing gas, and 200-foot-tall flames. In some instances, "fire whirls," or tornadoes of fire, danced out from the main body of the fire to knock down buildings and carry flaming debris into the sky. Temperatures reached 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit??the melting point of steel.

As the fire surrounded the town, two railroads became the only means of escape. Two trains ran the gauntlet of fire. One train caught on fire from one end to the other. The heroic young African-American porter ran up and down the length of the train, reassuring the passengers even as the flames tore at their clothes. On the other train, the engineer refused to back his locomotive out of town until the last possible minute of escape. In all, more than 400 people died, leading to a revolution in forestry management practices and federal agencies that monitor and fight wildfires today.
Author Daniel Brown has woven together numerous survivors' stories, historical sources, and interviews with forest fire experts in a gripping narrative that tells the fascinating story of one of North America's most devastating fires and how it changed the nation.… (més)

  1. 10
    The Children's Blizzard de David Laskin (meggyweg)
  2. 00
    Firestorm at Peshtigo: A Town, Its People, and the Deadliest Fire in American History de Denise Gess (oregonobsessionz)
  3. 00
    By Permission of Heaven de Adrian Tinniswood (meggyweg)
    meggyweg: The Great Fire of London.
  4. 00
    The Hinckley fire de Antone A. Anderson (alco261)
    alco261: Andersons's book is a collection of first person accounts and Brown's book is a history of the entire event (Anderson's book was also one of the books listed in Brown's bibliography).
  5. 00
    John Blair and the Great Hinckley Fire de Josephine Nobisso (alco261)
    alco261: Under a Flaming Sky has first person account details of John Blair's efforts that day.
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Es mostren 1-5 de 14 (següent | mostra-les totes)
Fascinating story and a well written account. I was previously only aware of the more infamous Peshtigo fire, yet this book this book makes clear the Hinckley tragedy was in many ways just as horrific.

My only minor criticisms are that there were a bit too many characters, making it hard to follow the storyline, and the myriad individual tragedies involved became almost repetitious after a while.

Nonetheless, a very interesting read indeed. ( )
  la2bkk | Feb 10, 2023 |
What a wild piece of history! This nonfiction book tells of the Great Hinckley Fire of 1894. So many people died or lost everything they had. The author had a relative caught in the tragedy and it drew his interest. A heartbreaking piece of Minnesota history, but a testament to the heroic actions some people take in an emergency. ( )
  bookworm12 | Jan 24, 2023 |
“On September 1, 1894, two forest fires converged on the town of Hinckley, MN, trapping more than 2000 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 F, 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 400 people would die, leading to a revolution in forestry management and the birth of federal agencies that monitor and fight wildfires.”

This book tells the true story of the 1894 Great Hinckley Firestorm, which burned 350,000 acres in 5 hours and killed over 400 people. It is the story of a logging town in Minnesota. Many of those logs provided additional fuel to the fire. The narrative provides a vivid sense of this disaster. It also presents the context and aftermath.

It is well-structured. The author builds suspense as the fire approaches the town. He portrays the panic people feel when they find themselves trapped. Brown has woven these stories together through researching diaries, letters, and news articles. It is filled with individual stories and acts of heroism.

“As she stepped outside an enormous blast of hot air slammed into the house, bowling mother and child over, tumbling them 25 or 30 feet into a nearby cornfield. Anderson ran to them and knelt beside the dazed mother, imploring her to let him take the baby. He’d save its life if he could save his own…She resisted at first, but then looked where Anderson was pointing at the wall of flame advancing toward them and thrust the baby into Anderson’s arms.”

Brown’s grandfather was a child when this fire hit town, so he had a personal interest in documenting this disaster. His grandfather survived but lost family members. It is scary, heart-wrenching, and sad, but also an excellent example of bringing a lesser-known piece of history to light.
( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
This was an well written hard rending account of the Hinckley firestorm of 1894. Each account of heroism and suffering are given respectful attention. It boggles the mind how anything like this tragedy could happen. Highly recommended read. ( )
  Arkrayder | Dec 20, 2018 |
As Robert Frost says, “Some say the world will end in fire; Some say in ice…”. Thus right after The Children’s Blizzard it was appropriate to read Under a Flaming Sky, about the Hinckley, Minnesota, firestorm of 1894. Same general pattern for a disaster story; it’s a little personal this time since the doomed include author Daniel James Brown’s grandfather.

Thus: the victims are mostly Scandinavian immigrants; the guilty parties are the timber companies that cut down the white pine forests and left highly flammable slash in their wake; the science involves a discussion of the mechanics of firestorms; the disaster is the convergence of two forest fires on the town of Hinckley in the abnormally hot summer of 1894; the heroes include railroad engineers who kept their train in the depot until it was actually on fire itself so the maximum number of residents could escape; the aftermath includes the author’s visit to the town to lay flowers on the mass grave that presumably includes his grandfather.

This is a somewhat more satisfying book than The Children’s Blizzard; the author includes more photographs and maps that make it easier to understand exactly what was going on. The big lesson for disaster response is to remember that your life is more important than your possessions. The smoke plumes from the converging forest fires to the south were visible for hours before they reached Hinckley and the other towns; since the wind was also from the south it didn’t take much to figure out that prospects were not good. In fact, a lot of Hinckley residents did decide to flee well in advance, but rather than go on foot or wagon they elected to wait for trains they knew would arrive in the afternoon, and packed belongings in anticipation of orderly loading on the cars. The author’s grandmother tried to drag her prized sewing machine to the depot (but fortunately gave up after only a few feet). The trains did show up; unfortunately at almost the same time as the fire. The Hinckley Fire Department did its best but its hoses burned through behind it and men abandoned their posts to save their families.

It would make a better disaster movie than The Children’s Blizzard, too – there’s more drama in burning alive than freezing to death. A southbound train found itself heading right into the fire; the engineer gambled, opened the throttle, and tried to make it through, figuring if he tried to reverse he might collide with another southbound train that wouldn’t see him in the smoke (as it happened, the other southbound train engineers decided they weren’t going any further and backed up). This “charge” worked, although there was a considerable amount of luck involved; the train eventually derailed as the ties burned beneath it and the rails spread, but it was out of the main fire core by then and the crew and passengers survived by drenching themselves with tender water.

Two more trains had pulled into Hinckley from the north; the engineers realized that things were bad but needed to water before they could leave. One of the two engines dropped its freight cars and coupled to the rear of the other train, and then both headed out of town after picking up as many fleeing citizens as they could. They almost waited too long – the train actually caught fire, and they just made it across a burning bridge before it collapsed. They stopped at two other small towns, but nobody took them seriously and no other passengers boarded. Eventually, surrounded by flames, they stopped next to Skunk Lake and the conductors and porters hurried passengers into the water, where they waited out the fire with no further ill effects.

People unable to make it to the train tried a variety of tactics, with varying success, mostly depending on the vagaries of the fire. A large plowed field saved a number, but another group that took refuge in a swamp found it had dried up and they burned alive from radiant heat. A few bodies of water – a flooded quarry, a pond – saved others, but the Grindstone River was reduced by drought to shallow pools and people trying to seek refuge there died. Some lived by jumping into their wells or their tornado shelters, but others died from oxygen deprivation in the same shelters (18 bodies were removed from one well). Another lucky group took refuge in the Eastern Minnesota RR roundhouse; the author speculates the roundhouse sheet-metal walls reflected enough heat to keep them alive, despite outside temperatures high enough to melt rails and boxcar frames into puddles (apparently Rosie O’Donnell thermal physics were not yet in force).

About 1200 people died altogether, with many bodies unidentifiable and little heaps of calcined bones still turning up in out-of-the-way corners years later. There are some blurry pictures of bodies being gathered on a wagon and interred in a mass grave; I’m glad they aren’t any sharper.

A item relevant to web discussions of colloidal silver as a cure-all comes from Brown’s discussion of burn treatment; methods in use at the time were mostly worse than useless (mud, cow dung, roasted mice, raw eggs, vinegar, pig fat, boiled beans, beeswax, linseed oil, carron oil, carbolic acid, petroleum jelly, honey, and oak leaves are all mentioned; Brown notes that honey and oak leaves might have had a small beneficial effect due to the antiseptic properties of honey and the tanning ability of oak leaves). A little late for Hinckley, Dr. William Halstead of Johns Hopkins introduced powdered silver for burn treatment in 1895 and it actually worked – at least as far as infections were concerned; there were still all the fluid loss and metabolic problems associated with burns but at least opportunistic microbials were reduced.

Hinckley is now a casino town; there’s apparently a pretty good Fire Museum; I’ll have to visit if I ever find myself in that neck of the former woods. ( )
2 vota setnahkt | Jan 1, 2018 |
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[Preface] Forty years after the Hinckley firestorm, my grandfather still sometimes awoke in the night, screaming.
[Preface] The experience of one who has passed through the Hinckley fire . . .
the truth . . . would seem like the wildest fancies of crazy
imagination; no pen can portray its terrible reality;
notongue can even tell the bare truth of the awful ordeal.

--Angus Hay
[Prologue] Something was afoot that summer--something concealed, not yet revealed.
Lying alone on his cot in the darkness, nine-year-old Bill Grissinger wondered what it was that woke him.
[Epilogue] Neon lights and the usual jumble of fast-food joints and gas stations greeted me when I pulled off of Interstate 35 at the Hinckley exit late in the afternoon.
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History. Nonfiction. HTML:

On September 1, 1894 two forest fires converged on the town of Hinckley, Minnesota, trapping over 2,000 people. Daniel J. Brown recounts the events surrounding the fire in the first and only book on to chronicle the dramatic story that unfolded. Whereas Oregon's famous "Biscuit" fire in 2002 burned 350,000 acres in one week, the Hinckley fire did the same damage in five hours. The fire created its own weather, including hurricane-strength winds, bubbles of plasma-like glowing gas, and 200-foot-tall flames. In some instances, "fire whirls," or tornadoes of fire, danced out from the main body of the fire to knock down buildings and carry flaming debris into the sky. Temperatures reached 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit??the melting point of steel.

As the fire surrounded the town, two railroads became the only means of escape. Two trains ran the gauntlet of fire. One train caught on fire from one end to the other. The heroic young African-American porter ran up and down the length of the train, reassuring the passengers even as the flames tore at their clothes. On the other train, the engineer refused to back his locomotive out of town until the last possible minute of escape. In all, more than 400 people died, leading to a revolution in forestry management practices and federal agencies that monitor and fight wildfires today.
Author Daniel Brown has woven together numerous survivors' stories, historical sources, and interviews with forest fire experts in a gripping narrative that tells the fascinating story of one of North America's most devastating fires and how it changed the nation.

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