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Gunflint Burning

Fire in the Boundary Waters

2019
Author:

Cary J. Griffith

Gunflint Burning

Paperback edition forthcoming in May 2019

 

The story of the Ham Lake fire, at the time the most destructive wildfire in modern Minnesota history—the blaze, the firefighters’ battle, the human toll

Gunflint Burning is a comprehensive account of the dramatic events around the Ham Lake fire of 2007, one of the largest wildfires in Minnesota history. In sharp detail, Cary J. Griffith describes the key events of the fire as they unfold, transporting readers to the front lines of an epic struggle that was at times heroic, tragic, and sublime. 

"Skillfully wielding his narrative talent, Cary J. Griffith leads readers into the blistering heart of the 2007 Ham Lake fire, one of the most destructive in Minnesota history."—Peter M. Leschak, author of Ghosts of the Fireground and Letters from Side Lake

On May 5, 2007, two days into his twenty-seventh trip to the Boundary Waters, Stephen Posniak found a perfect spot on Ham Lake and set about making a campfire. Over the next two weeks, the fire he set would consume 75,000 acres of forest and 144 buildings. More than one thousand firefighters would rally to extinguish the blaze, at a cost of 11 million dollars.

Gunflint Burning is a comprehensive account of the dramatic events around the Ham Lake fire, one of the largest wildfires in Minnesota history. Cary J. Griffith describes what happened in the minutes, hours, and days after Posniak struck that fateful match—from the first hint of danger to the ensuing race to flee the fire or defend imperiled property to the incredible efforts of firefighters and residents battling a blaze that lit up the Gunflint Trail like the fuse to a powder keg.

We meet locals faced with losing everything: the sheriff and his deputy tasked with getting everyone out alive; tourists caught unawares; men and women using every piece of equipment and modern firefighting technique against impossibly high winds and dry conditions to suppress a wildfire as it grew to historic proportions; and, finally, Stephen Posniak, who in the aftermath tragically took his own life—the fire’s only fatality.

In sharp detail, Gunflint Burning describes the key events of the Ham Lake fire as they unfold, providing readers with a sense of being on the front lines of an epic struggle that was at times heroic, tragic, and sublime.

Gunflint Burning

Cary J. Griffith is the author of four books, including Lost in the Wild: Danger and Survival in the North Woods; Opening Goliath, winner of the 2010 Minnesota Book Award; Wolves, winner of a Midwest Book Award; and Savage Minnesota, which was published serially in the Star Tribune. He lives in Rosemount, Minnesota.

Gunflint Burning

Skillfully wielding his narrative talent, Cary J. Griffith leads readers into the blistering heart of the 2007 Ham Lake fire, one of the most destructive in Minnesota history.

Peter M. Leschak, author of Ghosts of the Fireground and Letters from Side Lake

Cary J. Griffith invites his readers beneath the smoke and flames of a running crown wildfire to show us the massive coordinated response to one camper’s carelessness. His precise research and his clearheaded storytelling serve admirably to underscore the skill, selfless dedication, and love of place and community that sustained foresters, firefighters, outfitters, pilots, food suppliers, and residents through a truly heroic struggle.

Cheri Register, author of The Big Marsh: The Story of a Lost Landscape

Gunflint Burning brings the adrenaline, the falling ash, the smell of smoke, and the jarring scream of a crown fire to its detailed narrative of a wildfire in one of America’s best-loved wilderness areas. Cary J. Griffith carries the reader over portages, across lakes, and through burning cabins to show how wildfire increasingly burns through our lives.

Rocky Barker, author of Scorched Earth: How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America

In Gunflint Burning, Cary J. Griffith has penned the consummate story of one of the great wildfire disasters in the history of Minnesota. Expertly reported and cleverly written, this account of the Ham Lake fire of 2007 reads like a thriller and an environmental treatise all in one. This is no coincidence, given Griffith’s bona fides. Gunflint Burning is one of those rare books for just about anyone.

Peter Geye, author of Wintering

Gunflint Burning is a cautionary tale for anyone who’s kindled a warming blaze while camping. But it’s also about the consequences of carelessness, the depth of community, the value of knife-edge coordination and — perhaps most of all — how an expanse of lakes and rocks and trees in northernmost Minnesota can inspire people to work past exhaustion to save it.

Star Tribune

Gunflint Burning offers a very real sense of what it was like for those who faced the prospect of losing everything to the raging fire, and how they struggled and rallied to subdue it.

West Central Tribune

Gunflint Burning

Contents
Map of the Ham Lake Fire
Abbreviations
Prologue: Bob Monehan’s Place
Before the Storm
1. Stephen Posniak
2. The Weather Begins to Turn
3. The Burning of Windigo Lodge
Fire Day One
4. Preparation
5. Volunteers and Water
6. Posniak Strikes the Match
7. First Responders
8. A Growing Firefight
9. Witnesses
10. An Interrupted Journey
11. Front Lines
12. Questions
13. Spotting Out of Control
Fire Day Two
14. An Alarming Glow
15. The Evacuation Moves Forward and a Burnout Goes Awry
16. Managing Chaos
17. The Long Afternoon
18. Fire at the Tip of the Bay
19. Last Stand
Fire Day Three
20. Saving the Seagull Guard Station
21. In the Heart of the Heart of the Flames
22. Shock
23. The First Burn Out
The Big Burn Out
24. Backfire
25. Fire down the Line
26. Ham Lake Fire, Days 6–11
Aftermath
27. The Investigation
28. The Indictment
Epilogue
Sources and Acknowledgments
Index