Wildfire Wars: Frontline Stories of BC's Worst Forest Fires


295 pages
Contains Photos, Maps, Index
ISBN 1-55017-278-6
DDC 634.9'618'09711





Reviewed by Joan A. Lovisek

Joan Lovisek, Ph.D., is a consulting anthropologist and ethnohistorian
in British Columbia.


The abundance of forests in British Columbia also means forest fires. In
Wildfire Wars, Keith Keller, a reporter and teacher, looks at 10 of
British Columbia’s most famous forest fires between 1931 and 1998, and
those who battled them.

The book, which reads like a compendium of wildfire news stories
written in full-length form, provides interesting facts and describes
the best and worst attributes of firefighting in British Columbia. For
example, throughout the Depression, firefighting was such a valued
source of income (even at 25 cents per hour) that fires were
intentionally set to maintain income. It was during this and other
periods of unemployment that forest fires were viewed by government as
an economic blessing for the thousands of unemployed on Vancouver

All firefighters, however, were not the dedicated heroes that they are
often conventionally portrayed as being—although firefighting has its
heroes. Keller describes the theft that occurred in big fires when some
firefighters buried expensive tools in the bush to be later retrieved;
the strategies newly recruited firefighters used to get out of
firefighting; the resentment of loggers who were forced by economic
circumstance to fight fires; and the animosity between Forest Service
management and firefighters. Keller also provides details of the social
underbelly of the Ram fire in 1985, when corruption in the firefighting
camps attracted prostitutes and drug dealers. A provocative epilogue
entitled “Is Black Bad?” explores the politically sensitive issue of
not interfering in naturally occurring forest fires for the benefit of
the ecosystem and forest regeneration.

The book has maps showing the location of the fires, detailed
descriptions of frontline firefighters, and photographs of the
devastating damage done by fires. The author writes in a clear,
non-sensational style.


Keller, Keith., “Wildfire Wars: Frontline Stories of BC's Worst Forest Fires,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 30, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/18226.