I grew up east of the 100th meridian, which meant that I had no inkling of what it would be like to experience a major wildland fire like the ones that take place in the American West. Quite a few years ago, an arsonist lit a fire near the small city I moved to in far northern California, one which burned 64,000 acres, demolished the rural health clinic my husband helped found, and destroyed 600 structures. The hair-raising stories from our friends who had to flee the fire made a huge impression on me—so much so that I decided research the phenomenon and write this.
Then the Lightning Siege of 2008 struck. Six thousand lightning strikes sparked two thousand fires, 150 of them in the area where I live, three of them right behind the ridge my home occupies. One night, after weeks of smoke and jangled nerves, the wind came howling down off the Oregon desert and every fire around us exploded. That night, my husband and I awoke in the middle of the night to find our bedroom flooded with orange light. When we stepped to the window, we saw that flames were dancing along the top of the entire ridgeline that formed our western horizon. We were evacuated for eight nail-biting days.
Living through a wildland fire was as awe-inspiring, terrifying, and daunting as I had imagined. Anyone who has lived through one of these elemental experiences knows this. I hope that this book can give those who have never had such an experience a vivid picture of what it would be like, as well as give voice to those who have.
I’ve written my entire life, starting in second grade; I studied Creative Writing at Wellesley College, where I graduated with a double major in English Literature and Biology. My children’s book, The Legend of the Flying Hotdog, a fable about the power of kindness, was published by Green Tiger Press and optioned for film. I served as editor-in-chief for the literary magazine, The Hot Air Quarterly, for several years. My first novel, The Last Good Fairy, first published as a limited collector’s edition won a New England Book Show Award for excellence in book design; it is currently available on Kindle.
A burned-out physician whose stale world is crumbling around him, a homeless man bedeviled by a phantom loss, an alienated young girl living off the grid with her controlling father, a volunteer firefighter driven by a devastating mistake … Fifteen compelling voices tell the story of a raging, out-of-control wildfire.
By turns heartbreaking, triumphant, mysterious, and familiar, Altar of Fire illustrates how seeds of redemption, release, and hope can germinate beneath the ashes of loss. And it reminds us of the potential that lies within not only each challenge, but also each individual, no matter how broken or lost.