REVIEW: “Monster Fire at Minong” by Bill Matthias
After a one-month hiatus, the Men’s Group leapt back into action, meeting this past Friday to discuss a book of local history. We had our second-best attendance for the year, with seven of our community’s finest minds gathered together. Re-joining us after a one-year hiatus was Chuck Hyser, who blended back into the group as if he had never left.
Unfortunately, Ted had not read the book because he knew he was not going to be at the June meeting when it was originally supposed to have been discussed. Consequently, and as always, Ron fired him from the coordinator’s role. Once that was settled, our food had arrived, and we delved into it and the book.
There was general agreement that Monster Fire provides good documentation of the fire – numbers and names of those who fought it and the like – but it’s not a particularly gripping story. What made it interesting for most of the group was that it was a very local story. Adrian said that he drove out to County Highway T, where much of the story’s action takes place just to see what it looks like today. He also was interested in the book because he and the author are friends, so there was something of a personal connection for him. He told how Matthias, who was a Superintendent of the Minong area school system at the time of the fire (1977), had developed a school program to which he had recruited high school students who helped to fight area wildfires. Those students, along with many other untrained volunteers, were involved very heavily in the fight against the monster fire, which turned out to be the last time untrained volunteers were allowed to help. Today’s wildland firefighting is done exclusively by well-trained professionals within local fire departments, the Department of Natural Resources, and many federal agencies.
Along with the heavy use of volunteers, readers were amazed at the long hours and days firefighters were subjected to. “I got the sense that a lot of people went for long stretches with little food and less sleep,” commented John Sill (by email). Again, today’s wildland firefighting is heavily regulated to prevent overwork and subsequent fatigue, which can lead to injuries and even death on the fire line.
Irv said he would like to have seen more about the natural role of fire in the pine barrens ecosystem. Wildfire today is recognized as a necessary influence on the health of this habitat, and the book may have missed an opportunity to reflect on this 35-year-old event in the light of contemporary knowledge and thought.
Not surprisingly, the group’s rankings of the book were in the low-to-mid range, with Interest averaging a 2.9 out of 5 and Readability averaging 3.25. Most were not likely to read another book by Matthias, but I think we can agree that if everyone has one story inside them to tell, Matthias didn’t do too badly with this one.
Our next meeting will be Friday, August 17th, at 6:30, when we will discuss The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig.