Firestorm, Nevada Barr, G P Putnam's Sons, 1996, 307 pp
This is the fourth book in Nevada Barr's mystery series, all set in US National Parks. I am reading the series because they are well done and because it is my puny attempt at activism in these times when our parks are at risk.
Firestorm was especially timely after the horrendous fire season we had in California last fall. In fact, it is set in Northern California's Lassen Volcanic National Park, home to jagged peaks, meadows, lakes, volcanoes, and steaming fumaroles (openings in or near a volcano through which hot sulfurous gases emerge.)
Anna Pigeon, park ranger, has been sent to Lassen as a camp medic and security officer to join the team fighting the Jackknife Fire. (According to the author's website, this is a fictional fire based on one she once worked in her park ranger days in Idaho.) As Anna treats the crew in the medic tent, you get minute knowledge about what these firefighters suffer while battling huge fires. You also learn about the various characters on the team, their talents and their grudges.
After several days of this, a cold front moves in with snow following. The camp is demobilized and all personnel begin to move out, trusting the weather to finish their job. But Anna and her crew are delayed due to the last minute rescue of a firefighter with a broken leg.
Within a couple hours, the erratic winds of a thunderstorm preceding the blizzard turn the ravine where they were stationed into a firestorm. As it explodes in flame, this crew of eight is trapped with only little individual tent-like fire shelters to protect them.
Many hours go by until the fire passes and that is when you learn what it is like to be dependent on these little shelters to stay alive while feeling like one is being baked to death. As Anna and her team members emerge one of them is found dead from a knife stabbed into his back.
At that point the story grows from an extreme adventure tale into a desperate race to determine who committed the murder. There they are in a tiny cabin, with the snow and the cold and no food for over 48 hours before a rescue crew can get to them. Anna is still being the medic but also relentlessly pursues her detective work as security officer. Danger, privation, and fear do their work on them all but of course Anna solves the crime while the clues are fresh just before their rescue arrives.
Great mystery fiction with a fearless heroine alongside the gritty realities of firefighting. When we had the fires last fall I remained glued to the videos and updates from the news and the Fire Department feeds on Twitter, but now I know much more about what really goes on!
(Firestorm is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)