Came across this book while browsing in Borders today; it's an account of a firestorm that swept several Minnesota communities in 1894, with devastating damage and loss of life.
Later: This is a fascinating and heart-wrenching account of a devastating disaster, one that was triggered by a combination of factors that (luckily) seldom occur. [That said, there was an appalling series of fires in Greece last year that moved as fast as the firestorm described in this book, and had similarly tragic results - families incinerated on the spot as they tried to flee. So this isn't a story that couldn't happen in modern times, just one that's - luckily - much more rare than it once was.]
Some of the contributing factors to the Hinckley fire: a severe heat-wave and drought; the logging industry that left huge tracts of land covered with nothing but the tinder-dry remnants of branches and leaves; and a wind that helped fan the flames and move them faster than anyone had imagined possible...
Much of the book sets the stage for the fire, describing the town and surrounding areas, introducing the major players, filling in details of the policies of the great railroad magnates, which may also have been factors. Once the fire starts, though, the book becomes a litany of terrible tragedy, punctuated with great heroism - some successful, some not. Some familes were snatched from disaster at the last moment; others who would have been safe fled in the wrong direction and died, still others went back into the danger area on purpose to try and find family members, and a great many were trapped when they somehow ignored the signs of the approaching fire - a syndrome that modern psychologists can understand, in which it takes a tremendous amount of incentive to step outside the normal patterns of daily life, even if failure to change means doom. [There are other discussions about post-traumatic stress, something that the survivors all suffered but that was not well-understood at the time. Comparisons to the survivors of modern disasters are of interest here.]
Overall, a well-written and fascinating account of a horrifying event. I'm adding this to my disaster-book collection; if I find another copy I'll release this one.