Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Matthew Desmond

Matthew Desmond worked four seasons as a wildland firefighter in Arizona and is the author of On the Fireline: Living and Dying with Wildland Firefighters, recently published by the University of Chicago Press.

From his 2013 Q & A with Randy Dotinga for the Christian Science Monitor:

Q: People think of Arizona as being a desert state, but you fought fires in the woods, not too far from a ski resort or two. What was the landscape like there?

A: Arizona has a lot of different climates. This area is a forest with many ponderosa pines. It gets snow in the winter, but it can dry out quickly, and Arizona has witnessed high temperatures and drought in the last few years. They've also experienced a massive beetle infestation, which dries out trees and makes them tinder sticks. Along with other things, these have all contributed to massive fires in Arizona over the past 10 years.

Q: How did you become a firefighter?

A: This was what a lot of us, mainly young men, did in the summers in northern Arizona. This is how I put myself through college. I fought fires in the summer, and then I went back and did it again when I went to graduate school.

Q: What was the appeal of this life for you?

A: At the station, it's 45 minutes away from the nearest anything. We live out there, we cook and eat out there, and when there's no fires and we get off at 5, you have the whole rest of the night to yourself. You feel like you own this piece of America in a way.

Q: What backgrounds do the firefighters have?

A: They tend to...[read on]
Read an excerpt from On the Fireline.

The Page 69 Test: On the Fireline.

--Marshal Zeringue