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Nature Ecology

The Chinchaga Firestorm

When the Moon and Sun Turned Blue

by (author) Cordy Tymstra

The University of Alberta Press
Initial publish date
Jun 2015
Ecology, Natural Disasters
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jun 2015
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Aug 2015
    List Price

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In 1950, the biggest firestorm documented in North America—one fire alone burned 3,500,000 acres of boreal forest in northern Alberta and British Columbia—created the world’s largest smoke layer in the atmosphere. The smoke travelled half way around the northern hemisphere and made the moon and sun appear blue. The Chinchaga Firestorm is an historical study of the effects of fire on the ecological process. Using technical explanations and archival discoveries, the author shows the beneficial yet destructive effects of many forest fires, including the 2011 devastation of Slave Lake, Alberta. Cordy Tymstra tells the stories of communities and individuals as their lives intersected with the path of the Chinchaga River Fire—stories that demonstrate people’s spirit, resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and their persistence in the struggle against nature’s immense power. The 1950 event changed the way these fires are fought in Alberta and elsewhere. The Chinchaga Firestorm will appeal to wildland fire scientists, foresters, forest ecologists and policy makers, as well as those who are interested in western Canadian history and ecology. Foreword by Mike Flannigan.

About the author

Cordy Tymstra is a Wildlife Science Co-ordinator with Environment and Sustainable Resource Development at the Government of Alberta. He lives in Edmonton.

Cordy Tymstra's profile page

Editorial Reviews

"The Chinchaga Firestorm" [describes] this multi-faceted powerful event with the technical focus and depth of a scientific investigation woven into an engaging narrative drawn from historical archives and personal accounts. Simultaneously a compelling read and rich source of knowledge, Tymstra’s book is equally stimulating for a general audience and for seasoned environmental scientists, managers, and policy makers.... The Chinchaga Firestorm concludes with a compelling and timely argument for a fire management paradigm shift designed to meet the challenges of this century."


"[Tymstra] ties in the impacts on wildfire ecology, wildfire management policy, wildfire behaviour, smoke and most interestingly of all, the human side of the whole event. People’s stories intertwine with historical facts and demonstrate their resilience and persistence in the struggle against wildfire."

Environment and Parks Insight

"This is surely the definitive account of the Chinchaga complex. It will be welcomed by the North American fire community and by anyone interested in the settlement of the Boreal Plains Ecozone of western Canada." [Full review at]

BC Studies

"...the author not only describes the fire and its impact, but adds technical details and history to survey forest fires at other times and how people handled them. Though the 1950 fire changed how fires are fought in Alberta and elsewhere, they also affected scientific research, forest management, and ecological studies, making this survey of western Canadian history a far-ranging examination holding much more of interest beyond its Canadian boundaries."

The Bookwatch

"Tymstra’s book lies roughly halfway between the ripping good firefighting yarn, as exemplified by Norman McLean’s Young Men and Fire (1993), and the intellectually compelling analyses of fire in human affairs of the sort produced by Pyne or by Johan Goudsblom (Fire and Civilization, 1992). Not a bad place for a book to be." J.R. McNeill, May 2017

J. R. McNeill

"This book by Tymstra combines an analysis of the largest complex of wild land fires recorded in North America with a compelling narrative of the human response.... The analysis presents data in tables, charts, graphs, and maps, illustrating the causes and effects of the firestorm. The narrative presents the human dimension of firefighting, the frustration of inappropriate policy and a distant bureaucracy, and the innovative (often in defiance of policy) tactics in responding to wild land fire. This work is an amazing scientific contribution to fire science, ecology, public policy, human geography, and Canadian history. It is a great story for general readers as well. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels." [Full review at]

Choice Magazine

"This is an excellent, well written, and detailed study of the 1950 fire and of the events that followed."

Alberta History