Dan Robinson fought forest fires for 14 years, and now in his
dramatic first novel “After the Fire” he explores the internal
struggle of one fire crew supervisor, Barnes, who loses 12 members
of his crew in a fated forest fire.
Robinson, who is an adjunct professor in the English department
said that all of the smaller fires that Barnes’ crew fights in the
novel are based on real fires, but the tragedy that eventually
kills much of his crew and friends was created from a compilation
of several larger fires that he fought.
“Everything (in the novel) is true even if it didn’t happen
exactly as I’ve written,” he said.
The truthfulness of his novel comes not from a factual depiction
of real events, but rather from his intimate knowledge of fires
gained from fighting over 100 fires throughout the years.
He had to run from fires and he lost close friends in tragedy
fires as well, which creates depth in the character of Barnes.
“I know what it’s like to spend a couple of days on a fire line
so my descriptions of the fires were maybe not more accurate but
(more true),” he said.
But even though on the surface the novel is about forest fires,
Robinson said that in actuality it is about much more.
“Even though the action is about forest fires it is not about
forest fires, it is about dealing with loss and what we do when
we’re faced with a seemingly overwhelming event,” he said.
Other minor characters in the novel, like Cal, a Vietnam veteran
who faced a similar dilemma when he was an officer in the war, help
to flesh out this deeper purpose.
Robinson, who has several other short stories and poems
published, has spent over 20 years working on this novel. He
originally began writing the novel early in his fire career, but
gave up until 1993 where he started again from scratch.
“At that time I didn’t know enough about fire to not write about
fire,” he said.
And that is the strength of his current novel, the fires are
only periphery to the characters and their struggles.
“I didn’t want Barnes to find his life only in fire,” Robinson
said. “The tragedy that happened to Barnes, while distinctly his,
is similar to the tragedies we all go through in our lives.”
While Robinson’s ambiguity about certain technical aspects of
fire-fighting makes the book accessible to those not in the field,
it also makes certain action scenes a little confusing for those
same readers as well. But while some terminology is at first
unclear, it can be picked up as the novel advances.
One of the best parts of the book for CSU readers is the fact
that the book is placed in Fort Collins, which Robinson said was a
natural choice because of it’s location close to the foothills and
his intimate knowledge of the town.
Robinson said that the central theme of his book is “those
moments of grace offered from individual to individual” and how
those individuals deal with the past.
“We are either enslaved by our pasts or set free by them and
that is determined by how we deal with our pasts.”
“After the Fire” is currently being sold in bookstores
everywhere including the CSU Bookstore.
Some terms that may be confusing are:
fire line: designed to take away the fuels for the fire,
essentially a trench that is dug down to mineral soil around the
perimeter of the fire in an attempt to fence it in
tie-in: where the fire line ends
pulaski: primary tool, besides the shovel, used by
fire-fighters, has an ax on one end and a hoe on the other
Hot shot crew: a crew of Type 1, or professional fire-fighters,
that are fully employed during the fire season and are on call to
any fire in the country within a two-hour notice
Type 2-crew: a crew of non-professional firefighters that are
called in when hot shot crews need assistance
Other recommended books for Holiday Break:
“Memoirs of a Geisha” by Arthur Golden
-An incredible depiction of a little girl who is sold into
prostitution by her parents and finds love.
“The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien
-Personal accounts of Vietnam soldiers that blurs the line
between fiction and non-fiction.
“The Butcher Boy” by Thomas Perry
-A boy struggles with mental illness in Ireland.
“King of Torts” by John Grisham
-A lawyer who delves into mass tort law and is turned on by the
clients he solicited.
“The Lovely Bones” by Alice Sebold
-A girl who is murdered watches from heaven as her family deals
with her death and searches for her killer.
“Omerta” by Mario Puzo
-A mafia godfather teaches a young man the ways of the
“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood
-Speculates about the future of the world in religious
“Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” by Dave Eggers
-A humorous and realistic non-fiction novel about a man who must
take care of his kid brother after his parent’s death.
“A prayer for Owen Meany” by John Irving
-A comprehensive story of one man’s life, religion, friendship
“If Tomorrow Comes” by Sydney Sheldon
-After everything is taken for her a woman resorts to coning the
evil people of the world, a tale of a modern day Robin Hood
Classics: If you haven’t read ’em you have to, if you have read
“Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger
“Gone with the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell
“The BFG” by Roald Dahl
“Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens