Friday, June 28, 2024


Fire Escape: How Animals and Plants Survive Wildfires (Books for a Better Earth) 
by Jessica Stremer; illus. by Michael Garland  
128 pages; ages 8-12
Holiday House, 2024

Wildfires have been in the news lately – mostly because they are becoming more frequent and bigger and cause disaster when they burn through towns and cities. But what happens to the plants and animals in a wildfire’s path? That’s what Jessica Stremer discusses in her newest book, Fire Escape.

Chapter by chapter she addresses such issues as how farmers evacuate livestock,  how zoos shelter their residents, and how rescued wild animals are cared for. While most animals try to flee fire, some see fire as an opportunity. Raptors hunt ahead of the flames, preying on animals fleeing the flames.

Let’s not forget the plants; they’re “wildlife” too. Some pine trees have adapted to wildfires, and require flames to melt the resin sealing their cones shut. Only then can the seeds be released to sprout into new seedlings. And when a fire reduces a forest to ash, that’s when succession takes over. Certain flowers, grasses, and fungi are adapted to colonize the burnt landscape. As they grow and die, new plants move in, eventually growing back into a forest. 

Jessica discusses megafires and the role global warming plays in wildfire season (indeed, in some places there is no “wildfire season” anymore. Fires burn year-round.) She takes a look at how people have used fire as a tool to maintain habitat, and how goats are used to fight fires. And she includes a great chapter about the advantages of having beavers move into a landscape. At the end of the book she mentions the scientists who help fight fire and the many kinds of fire-fighting jobs there are.

I wanted to know more about what inspired Jessica to write this book, and she graciouslyanswered my questions.

Me: In your author’s note, you mention seeing ash flakes fall from a fire in 2017. Can you tell us more?

Jessica: I was fist altered to the Lilac Fire, as it would later be named, when I walked out of a store to discover ash falling from the sky. I actually wasn’t sure what it was at first, but as I drove home, and towards the direction of the fire, I realized what was going on.

This wasn’t the first time we’d had a fire burning nearby. We lived just south of the Marine Corps base Camp Pendleton, and fires would sometimes start as a result of artillery drops during training sessions. We could see smoke from the fires, but they were always too far away to be of any concern. In fact, of the twelve years that we lived in California, the Lilac Fire was the only one that ever caused us to worry.

That afternoon, the fire was still a few miles away and most of my neighbors were confident that we didn’t need to worry. I didn’t want to overreact by evacuating that night (although a few of our friends did), but I also didn’t want to ignore what could become a very deadly situation. So when the kids got home from school, we packed suitcases for ourselves and supplies for our dogs just in case we needed to evacuate.

My daughters took horseback riding lessons at a stable a few miles east of us. After checking the news to learn exactly where the fire was burning and which direction it was headed, I texted their riding instructor to see if she or anyone there needed help. She said they were monitoring the fire and had plans in place to evacuate. In my research for this book, I spoke to a few people who run volunteer evacuation groups for horses and other livestock for situations just like this. It’s amazing to see people come together in times of need.

My husband and I then took turns waking up in the middle of the night to check the status of the fire. The next morning, we learned that between the firefighters working hard to contain the flames, and the wind changing direction – sending the flames back towards the direction they had come from where there was nothing left to burn – the fire was fortunately no longer a threat for us or our home.

We did have friends that had to evacuate. They lived near the riding stables, and while she and her daughters fled, her husband stayed to help their neighbor with their horses. >From his neighbor’s yard he saw a crew of hotshots rappel out of a helicopter into his back yard. Their fence burned down, but luckily their home was ok. Unfortunately, a nearby horse training facility, San Luis Rey Downs, wasn’t so lucky. Dozens of horses perished, unable to escape the deadly blaze. There was an immense feeling of sadness among the entire community.

Me: You mentioned that you went to the area years later. What did you notice about the landscape?

 Jessica: There are various areas in southern California that have experienced wildfires and are now thriving. Driving to our friend’s house, the ones who had to evacuate, is where I regularly witnessed an ongoing change in the post-fire landscape. At first the entire area was blackened and charred. But it didn’t take long for life to return to the area. Initially there were a lot of smaller plants which had sprouted up through the ashes. Then taller trees and shrubs began to fill in the gaps. One day a few years later, I remember driving past that area and thinking how lush and green everything looked. Almost like you wouldn’t know a fire had happened if you weren’t around to experience it.

The same thing happened while driving through Camp Pendleton. I didn’t take that road often, but I can distinctly remember one drive shortly after a fire where the entire landscape was charred, and then another drive years later where again plants had regrown. From the car, you would never know a fire had ever occurred in that area.

We sometimes went hiking on Palomar Mountain about an hour away from our home. It was during one of those hikes that I noticed many of the trees were scarred from a fire that had burned long ago, yet the forest was alive and thriving. I knew fires were good for the landscape, and following that hike the seeds of curiosity were planted. I wanted to know more about what happened during wildfires. What did animals do to survive? And how does a forest regrow? I never want to downplay the loss people experience during wildfires, but I do want to help people understand the ways in which fire can be beneficial.

photo by John McColgan, Bureau of Land Management, Alaska Fire Service

Me: The biggest threat now seems to be mega fires. What one thing can we do to prevent them? To help mitigate climate change or reverse it?

 Jessica: Oye, that’s a loaded question! So much of it depends on where you live. When it comes to wildfires, it’s important to maintaining boundaries around your home. Firefighters call this a “defensible area” which can be obtained by not planting trees and shrubs too close to structures.

If you live in a wooded area, talk to your local forestry management organization about the best way to manage the landscape. Can you help eradicate invasive species and plant those that are native to your area? Is it possible to have firefighters perform a controlled burn? Teaching our kids how to respect and care for the land is also really important.

Most wildfires are caused by people, so if you do have a fire, make sure the conditions are right. For example, never start a fire when it’s extremely dry and windy. Also, never start a fire in an uncontained area, such as outside a firepit, and never leave a fire unattended.

In regards to mitigating climate change, a lot of the problems stem from big corporations, the way they operate and the waste they produce. However, there are lot of little things we can do to try and help. Reduce the consumption of unnecessary goods and think of innovative ways to reuse products you already have. Buy local whenever possible. Participate in trash clean-ups. Plant native vegetation. I could go on and on!

Thank you so much, Jessica! Jessica is a member of #STEAMTeam2024. You can find out more about her at her website.

Thanks for dropping by today. On Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers. It's over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle, so hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copy provided by the publisher.


  1. I really like your statement about not forgetting that plants are wildlife too. What a fascinating topic and certainly really relevant also. Happy MMGM

    1. unfortunately too relevant. And getting more relevant by the year...

  2. This sounds like an excellent story. I review a lot of books that are related to fires and other natural disasters, so you got my attention. And, I watched how the Irwins at Austrailian Zoo caring for injured animals following devestating wildfires. Also found your comment about plants and forest recovery. Reminded me of how WPAFB burns its prairies at the end of the runway annually to bring a stronger and more beautiful prairie. Enjoyed the interview.

    1. Burning prairies to revitalize prairies sounds counterintuitive - but it's a great way to keep succession at bay. Otherwise there'd soon be trees sprouting at the end of the runway!

  3. I read another book recently about wildfires, but this takes a somewhat different approach. I'll have to find a copy. Thanks for the review!

  4. Thanks for the review and interview. Both provided excellent background to the topic of wildfires and their effects on plants and animals. I'll be tracking down a copy for sure.

  5. It is amazing how quickly nature regenerates itself after a wildfire, it's almost like nature's pruning (of course, I know there are other causes like arson and lack of proper forest management, etc). Very interesting interview and great review. Thanks for sharing!

    1. In general, I think you're right about nature regenerating. With the climate chaos happening, I wonder if the plants have time to move into burn areas and begin the regrowth before the next storm or fire

  6. Wow. This sounds like a terrific book. And very timely. It's important to have hope these days, and I think this is a hopeful book. Thanks for reviewing it here.

    1. I agree about the hopeful message. Thanks for dropping by.

  7. What an awesome book! I'm going to see if our library has a copy. It sounds like a really interesting perspective on wildfires. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. If your system doesn't have a copy, suggest they get one!