Review: Ignition – Lighting Fires in a Burning World

Ignition: Lighting Fires in a Burning World cover art.
Ignition is a thoughtful and compelling look at the world of wildland fire.

Author: Maura R. O’Connor
Published by Bold Type Books
Copyright 2023

If you are a prescribed burn boss who is busily running around tryping to get your burn plans completed before spring burn season, I will save you some time reading this review. Buy this book!

This is a by Maura O’Connor, an accomplished journalist spent years globetrotting for various high publications. Her considerable storytelling talent and journalist’s research rigor turned a complex subject into compelling prose.

Ignition is not simply a book for fire freaks; quite the contrary. It is an engaging tour of the world of wildland fire. The author pulls in the reader with her highly personal style and passion for her subject.


O’Connor’s approach writing this book conjured George Plimpton meets Robert Pirsig. The author takes us on a journey through the world of wildland fire; both wildfire suppression and prescribed fire. With a pack full of curiosity an absolutely no background, she opens the book by signing up for a two week TREX session in Nebraska. TREX, which stands for Prescribed Fire Trainiing Exchanges, are total emersion experiences. A group of highly experienced prescribed fire professionals lead students through a series of increasingly complex prescribed fire burns. The courses provide students with the opportunity to perform all of the task of a crew member under increasingly challenging conditions. Because this is emersion training, participants learn it all. O’Connor describes her experience in vivid graphic detail recounting clearly her fears and excitement.

From this very foundational introduction, the author proceeds to take us through a succession of live fire experiences, beginning with a volunteer stint or prescribed burning to help restore endangered Karner blue butterflies in New York. As O’Connor gains both experience and confidence, she signs up for a contract wildfire suppression crew out west. Along the way, the author treats us to a series of deep dives into fire science. 

Along the way O’Connor finds opportunities to burn with and learn from landowners across America. She details places where they have successfully worked with and frequently worked around government agencies. The effects of climate change on the management of forests across the Nation is forcing both to rethink their relations with one another, as well as the land.

Not stopping there, she takes the reader through the history of wildland fire, anthropological, political, and psychological issues surrounding modern wildland fire suppression and prescribed burning.

First Burners

A particular treat were the chapters exploring the ignored and repressed experience and knowledge of Native Americans. The importance of their prairie and savanna burning to improve deer and elk habitat is well known. O’Connor reveals for us the extent and complexity of cultural burning practices. Native Americans shaped and maintained nearly every aspect of the American landscape.

This is a book that is so thorough and well written it offers much to every reader regardless of whether you have never heard of drip torch or are a seasoned professional. The best indication to the dedication and scholarship of the author is the nine page bibliography. The extensive end notes provide a very useful way to locate those important facts you want to quickly retrieve months or years later.


Ignition: Lighting Fires in a Burning World is the first book on prescribed fire I have found that teaches like textbook while reading like a memior.

[Editors Note: George Plimpton was the well known author of Paper Lion and other first person experience non-fiction. Robert Pirsig wrote the popular 1970s fictional treatise on epistemology in the form of a travel novel.]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *