Lightning sparks a forest fire deep in the mountains near the town of Waterton.
Days later, the sky is blue and the air is clear, so it doesn’t seem like an emergency, until crews of firefighters begin to arrive and townspeople start to prepare. Cricket and her friends watch deer and birds flee the forest and run right through town. But what about the slower animals? What about the porcupines and squirrels, the salamanders and snakes? Cricket searches for a way to help until the fire surprises everyone by quickly switching directions and racing towards the town. She hopes that the preparations and the firefighters’ experience will be enough to save her home. But what about all the animals she loves?
In this guest post, author Pamela McDowell shares the inspiration for her book, Fire on the Mountain, and how wildfires affect families, communities, animals and more.
By Pamela McDowell
What comes to mind when you think of fire?
Do you picture a cozy campfire and roasting marshmallows? Or maybe the candles on your birthday cake? Or do you imagine flames racing through a forest?
Fire can warm us and bring comfort, but it can also terrify us. Fire can bring us together and tear us apart. Fire can destroy, but it can also spark renewal.
Fire is a complex topic and I knew that writing about the Kenow wildfire that burned almost 40% of Waterton Lake National Park in 2017 would be a very big story—too big, in fact! My book, Fire on the Mountain, was inspired by the events of the Kenow fire and includes lots of facts and places that readers may recognize. Just like the real fire in 2017, my story starts with a lightning strike and ends with the wind pushing the fire far faster and hotter than anyone expected. But my story is fiction because I couldn’t fit in everything that happened during the Kenow fire—and because I needed to tell a story.
Fire on the Mountain is about the dangers of wildfires. It’s about how wildfires can tear people apart, separating families, friends and even pets. It’s about how animals respond to fire and the ways animal families can be torn apart, too.
But the heart of the story shows people coming together to protect each other, their homes and the natural world around them. It’s about the townsfolk preparing their homes and businesses for the fire that may rip through the Waterton townsite. It’s about 148 firefighters who arrive from all over southern Alberta to save the town and historic sites, including the 90-year-old Prince of Wales Hotel. And it’s about Cricket and her friends’ determination to help in any way they can, first clearing brush from around their school and then working together to feed the firefighters.
The Kenow fire was devastating and Cricket sees a similar landscape when she returns home. The sides of entire mountains are black from valley to peak. Some forested areas are completely gone, leaving holes in the ground where trees burned to their roots. A few buildings have been burned to the ground, too. But there are also bright spots—like a green oasis of trees that stands untouched in a black sea of charred wood and ash and a pond that sparkles in the sunlight, surrounded by long green reeds. These bright spots will help the forest heal.
Will the forest be the same again some day? Probably not. But each stage of its renewal will be beautiful.
Praise for Fire on the Mountain:
“Fast-paced, yet easy to follow…Readers learn how forest fires can start and spread, as well as how animals behave when threatened by forest fires and what people can do in hope of protecting their property. Recommended.”—CM Magazine
Pamela McDowell‘s first career was in education, teaching junior and senior high school. She began writing when she left teaching and has now written more than fifty fiction and nonfiction books for children. Pamela grew up in Alberta and enjoys writing about the diverse animals and habitats of her home province. She lives in Calgary with her family.