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Teddy Roosevelt And The 'Burn' That Saved Forests

Timothy Egan writes the weekly column Outposts for the <em>New York Times.</em>
Timothy Egan writes the weekly column Outposts for the <em>New York Times.</em>

This interview was originally broadcast on Oct. 29, 2009. 'The Big Burn' is now available in paperback.

In his new book The Big Burn, author Timothy Egan takes us back to 1910, to the scene of the largest forest fire in American history. Three million acres -- an area the size of Connecticut -- burned down in Idaho and Montana over the course of a single weekend. More than 70 people died. The Idaho Statesman has since remembered it as "a conflagration of biblical proportions," and Egan says the fire was of a singular kind, "a monster that takes on a life of its own."

But in The Big Burn -- subtitled Teddy Roosevelt and The Fire That Saved America -- Egan argues that the fire actually saved the nation's forests, even as its flames charred the trees. The disaster served to strengthen the fledgling U.S. Forest Service, and rally public opinion behind Theodore Roosevelt's plan to protect national lands.

Egan is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and author of five books. He won the National Book Award for his critically acclaimed Dust Bowl chronicle The Worst Hard Time.

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