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Nature Natural Disasters

Fire Weather

The Making of a Beast

by (author) John Vaillant

Knopf Canada
Initial publish date
May 2023
Natural Disasters, Global Warming & Climate Change, Environmental Policy
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    May 2023
    List Price

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#1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER • WINNER OF THE BAILLIE GIFFORD PRIZE FOR NONFICTION • SHORTLISTED FOR THE HILARY WESTON WRITERS' TRUST PRIZE FOR NONFICTION • FINALIST FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD IN NONFICTION • ONE OF THE NEW YORK TIMES' TOP TEN BOOKS OF THE YEAR • A stunning account of a colossal wildfire, and a panoramic exploration of the rapidly changing relationship between fire and humankind from the award-winning, best-selling author of The Tiger and The Golden Spruce.

In May 2016, Fort McMurray, the hub of Canada's petroleum industry and America's biggest foreign supplier, was overrun by wildfire. The multi-billion-dollar disaster melted vehicles, turned entire neighborhoods into firebombs, and drove 88,000 people from their homes in a single afternoon. Through the lens of this apocalyptic conflagration—the wildfire equivalent of Hurricane Katrina—John Vaillant warns that this was not a unique event but a shocking preview of what we must prepare for in a hotter, more flammable world.
For hundreds of millennia, fire has been a partner in our evolution, shaping culture, civilization, and, very likely, our brains. Fire has enabled us to cook our food, defend and heat our homes, and power the machines that drive our titanic economy. Yet this volatile energy source has always threatened to elude our control, and in our new age of intensifying climate change, we are seeing its destructive power unleashed in previously unimaginable ways.
With masterly prose and a cinematic eye, Vaillant takes us on a riveting journey through the intertwined histories of North America's oil industry and the birth of climate science, to the unprecedented devastation wrought by modern forest fires, and into lives forever changed by these disasters. John Vaillant's urgent work is a book for—and from—our new century of fire, which has only just begun.

About the author

John Vaillant's work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and National Geographic among other magazines. His books, The Tiger and The Golden Spruce, were international bestsellers. His most recent book, The Jaguar's Children is his first novel.

John Vaillant's profile page


  • Short-listed, Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Non-Fiction Prize
  • Winner, The Baillie Gifford Prize
  • Short-listed, Banff Mountain Book Competition
  • Short-listed, National Book Award

Editorial Reviews


“All-too-timely. . . . The real protagonist here is the fire itself: an unruly and terrifying force with insatiable appetites. This book is both a real-life thriller and a moment-by-moment account of what happened—and why, as the climate changes and humans don’t, it will continue to happen again and again.” The New York Times, ”10 Best Books of 2023”

“A gripping depiction of the blaze’s devastating trajectory. . . . The book’s true protagonist is fire, which Vaillant treats like a living, breathing creature that is destined to grow even more dangerous as the world becomes even more combustible. At a time when wildfires are dominating news cycles, Fire Weather is not just a timely and stunning account of recent history—it’s also a frightening preview of what could become our new normal. —Shannon Carlin, TIME Magazine's ”100 Must-Read Books of 2023”

“This timely and riveting account of the 2016 McMurray wildfire explores not just that Canadian inferno but what it bodes for the future. Vaillant has a chillingly serious message: This is the inevitable result of climate change, and it will happen again and again.” The New York Times, ”100 Notable Books of 2023”

“A gripping narrative and a loud wake-up call. . . . Impossible to stop [reading].” The Washington Post

“A meticulous and meditative account of the changing landscape of Canadian fire. . . . [Fire Weather is] mesmerizing . . . and unfortunately, exquisitely timed.” —David Wallace-Wells, The New York Times
“Engrossing. . . . No book feels timelier than John Vaillant's Fire Weather, a deeply reported narrative of one of Canada's most destructive recent wildfires [and. . .] an adrenaline-soaked nightmare that is impossible to put down.” —The Times
“Gripping. . . . A real-life fable about the causes and consequences of climate change.” —The New York Times Book Review
“An urgent warning—and an all-consuming read. . . . [Fire Weather is] meticulous in its detail, both human and geological in its scale, and often shocking in its conclusions.” —The Guardian

“Intimate and global, harrowing and touching, terrifying and yet surprisingly inspirational, the book fills a hole in the best climate reportage to date. It may prove to do more than any book that came before by evoking horror on every page: horror at the world we’ve tarnished, horror at the greed that we’ve let rule.” —The Walrus

“Scrupulously and thoroughly researched. . . . [Fire Weather has] the momentum of a thriller—or a horror novel—as the implacable, relentless flames drive through the city, seeming at times alive. . . . Vaillant . . . one of Canada’s most respected non-fiction writers, has not only delivered his best book, but probably one of the finest books of the year. . . . An absolutely compelling read.”Toronto Star

“What makes Fire Weather so good is its in-depth analysis of the moral, political, environmental and even anthropological background to both the climate crisis and our relationship with fire in all its forms. . . . If we are to lift up our eyes and embrace the truth, then we all need to heed this powerful book.”The Spectator
“Valliant tells his story at a disaster-movie pace. . . .A disaster book of epic proportions [that] should shake us out of our climate-change stupor.”Financial Times
“Searing. . . . Vaillant concedes that we've made Earth a fire planet. His robust and vivid writing, detailed reporting, and urgent concern for the environment make for sizzling reading.”Booklist

Fire Weather is a gripping book that brings readers to the front lines of a major forest fire, while also exploring the intertwined history of oil and gas development and the study of climate change. Its lessons should not be soon forgotten.” Science

“Intense and vivid. . . . The fire’s story is propulsive and terrifying . . . [with] detailed scenes from around Fort McMurray. . . . As in his previous books . . . Vaillant . . . is interested in telling a larger story about humans and our interactions with the natural world.” —Quill & Quire

“[Fire Weather] is a fast-paced narrative of a disastrous wildfire and of the culture that both created the fire and was damaged by it. And it is a brilliantly written description of our own insights and follies: we saw the present disaster coming long ago. We could have prevented it, and we let it happen anyway.” The Tyee

“Skillfully examines the interconnected narratives of the oil industry and climate science, the immense devastation caused by modern wildfires, and the lasting impacts on the lives of those affected by these disasters. . . . A meticulously researched, beautifully told, and vitally relevant account.” —Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction jury citation

Fire Weather reveals to readers a character as ruthless, creative, and destructive as any in modern literature: fire itself. . . . John Vaillant traces how Canada’s geological and economic history have converged to transform fire from a useful tool into an existential threat to our way of life.” —2023 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction judges

“Riveting, spellbinding, astounding on every page. John Vaillant is one of the great poetic chroniclers of the natural world, and here he captures the majesty and horror of one of its great disasters—and what made it tragically possible.” —David Wallace-Wells

“In John Vaillant’s vivid anatomy of the apocalyptic Fort McMurray inferno, the histories of humankind’s ever-accelerating consumption of fossil fuel, and of our ever-increasing vulnerability to extreme wildfire, converge with the relentlessness of fate—and the urgency of prophecy.” —Philip Gourevitch

“A compulsively readable journey into our fiery times. At the center, Vaillant gives us fire itself as a character—fast, hungry, and evolving to shape the warming decades to come. You might never hear an engine or watch a bonfire the same way again.” —Bathsheba Demuth

Fire Weather is a towering achievement: an immense work of research, reflection and imagination that will, I believe, come to be seen as a landmark in non-fiction reportage on the Anthropocene, or what Vaillant here calls 'the Petrocene'—that epoch defined primarily by humanly enhanced combustion. Fire Weather is extraordinary in terms of its scope and range; it also sings and surprises at the level of the sentence. It grips like a philosophical thriller, warns like a beacon, and shocks to the core.” —Robert Macfarlane

“The Fort McMurray fire was a vortex of people, ideas, institutions, forest, oil, city, and wind, the quirky and the existential, all mutating under the wanton impress of the Anthropocene Age. Fire Weather offers a compelling account of that tragedy, and a reimagining of a pyric infection that threatens to remake the planet.” —Stephen Pyne

“Searing. . . . Vaillant concedes that we've made Earth a fire planet. His robust and vivid writing, detailed reporting, and urgent concern for the environment make for sizzling reading.” Booklist

“A gripping account of the May 2016 fire that engulfed the city of Fort McMurray . . . destroying thousands of homes and forcing the evacuation of 88,000 people. [Vaillant's] vivid description of the conflagration . . . is set against the Dantean backdrop of Fort McMurray’s oil-sands mining industry, one of the dirtiest outposts of the fossil fuels sector. . . . Vaillant’s exploration of this material is rich and illuminating, and his prose punchy and cinematic. . . . The result is an engrossing disaster tale with a potent message.” Publishers Weekly

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