John Norman Maclean

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John N. Maclean, prize-winning author and journalist, has published four books on fatal wildland fires, most recently (January 2013) "The Esperanza Fire: Arson, Murder and the Agony of Engine 57" (Counterpoint Press, Berkeley, CA), an account of an arson fire in 2006 in southern California that took the lives of a five-man Forest Service engine crew. The arsonist, Raymond Lee Oyler, became the first person ever to be convicted of murder for setting a wildland fire: Oyler subsequently was sentenced to death and is on Death Row in San Quentin State Prison. An early review in Booklist, publication of the American Library Association, noted: "It is a thoroughly engrossing read. In clear and precise prose, he lays out the facts about the 2006 Esperanza Fire in southern California that killed five U.S. Forest Service firefighters. Maclean treats his subject as a serious police procedural, giving readers the lay of the land, documenting communication as the fire was fought, and following-up with everyone involved."

Maclean is well known for his first book, Fire on the Mountain, about the deadly South Canyon Fire on Storm King Mountain (in Garfield County, Colorado), in 1994. Maclean is a former editor and Washington correspondent for The Chicago Tribune. His books are non-fiction, but novelistic in approach. Fire on the Mountainwas the Mountains and Plains Booksellers Association's best nonfiction title of 1999. It was made into a two-hour eponymous documentary by the History Channel that won the Cine Award for Excellence as best documentary of 2004 and was a finalist for an Emmy Award. Maclean is the son of Montana writer Norman Maclean, who wrote the well-known novella A River Runs Through It.

John N. Maclean's second book, Fire and Ashes: On the Frontlines of American Wildfire, was published in June 2003 by Henry Holt & Co. and named a "best book" of the year by the Chicago Tribune. The book, a collection of stories and essays, chronicles the 1953 Rattlesnake Fire on the Mendocino National Forest in northern California, the 1999 Sadler Fire in Nevada, and the 1949 Mann Gulch Fire in Montana. The Mann Gulch Fire was the subject of Norman Maclean's Young Men and Fire, a book published posthumously with John's assistance. The two fires, at Montana's Mann Gulch and Colorado's Storm King Mountain, have many similarities: both involved the deaths of smokejumpers, and both fires burned in steep canyons with similar fuels and vegetation, and both fires exhibited extreme fire behavior that should have been foreseen - with fatal results. There are echoes of those fires as well in the Thirtymile Fire, the subject of Maclean's third book, The Thirtymile Fire: A Chronicle of Bravery and Betrayal, published by Henry Holt in June 2007. Maclean has written a fourth book, about Southern California's Esperanza Fire of 2006 that killed a five-man Forest Service engine crew, and the subsequent trial and conviction of Raymond Oyler, the arsonist convicted of setting the fire. Oyler was sentenced to death after being found guilty on five counts of first-degree murder and numerous other charges related to a series of arson fires. The book, "The Esperanza Fire: Arson, Murder and the Agony of Engine 57," is scheduled to be issued in February 2013 by Counterpoint Press of Berkeley, California.

Biography[edit]

Maclean was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1943, the second of two children. He attended the University of Chicago school system through high school and graduated from Shimer College, then in Mt. Carroll, Illinois, a former satellite school of the University of Chicago. An honor student at Shimer, he received the school’s distinguished alumni award in 1975.

John Maclean was a writer, editor, and reporter for the Chicago Tribune for 30 years before he resigned in 1995 to begin a second career writing books. Maclean started his journalistic career in 1964 as a police reporter and rewrite man with the legendary City News Bureau of Chicago. He went to work for the Chicago Tribune the following year. He married Frances Ellen McGeachie in 1968; they have two adult sons, Daniel, a science teacher in Anchorage, Alaska, and John Fitzroy, a public defender for the state of Maryland.

In 1970, Maclean was assigned to the Washington Bureau of the Tribune. As diplomatic correspondent there he covered the State Department and was a regular on the "Kissinger Shuttle," covering much of the "shuttle diplomacy" of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Maclean was a Nieman Fellow in Journalism at Harvard University for the 1974-75 academic year. He became the Tribune’s Foreign Editor in Chicago in 1988. He resigned from the newspaper in 1995 to write Fire on the Mountain.

Maclean, a frequent speaker at wildland fire academies, workshops, and conventions, is a member of the Seeley Lake Volunteer Fire Department and the Explorer's Club. He is a qualified as a federal public information officer.

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