About the story...

The seeds for this story began years ago when I fought fires during summer vacations while in college. Before then, I had seen forest fires on television and film, but it soon became apparent after experiencing a few in person how poorly media conveys the jolting reality of the heat, smoke, flames and fear that encompass a raging fire. Writing, too, has its shortcomings, but I think of all the ways to communicate, writing allows the reader's imagination to participate and brings one closest to actually being there. 

Flying Firefighters came partly from my personal experiences and memories of riding in helicopters and fighting fires and partly from interviews with people who work on helitack crews. The story is patterned after an actual crew in California, and Tom, Joan, Dale and others in the book are real people. I have tremendous admiration for them, and this story, besides helping you understand what they do, is also my way of thanking them and others like them for their dangerous and beneficial work. 

About the illustrations...

The illustrations were done by my wife, Anna Grossnickle Hines, who tells it better than I do...

"They were a challenge to do...mostly because of the fire. Smoke and flames are always moving...and that movement needed to be captured in the pictures. When the editor, Dorothy Briley, called to tell Gary that Clarion wanted to publish the book, she was only considering me as the illustrator. While she thought it would be nice to have a husband wife team, the most important thing was to have a good book. I was not too crazy about the idea of drawing helicopters, but I too liked the idea of doing a book with Gary. Dorothy asked me if I would make the pictures energetic and do them with great enthusiasm and I agreed to try. 

"Fortunately Gary had lots of photographs. His first idea had been to write a non-fiction photo essay book and he had taken his camera while doing his research. That helped a lot. He had pictures of firefighters in their uniforms, at work and at their barracks. He had pictures of helicopters from every angle, and of forests and fires. Unfortunately, the pictures were all black and white. I had to go to books to get the color of the fire. A brochure I picked up in Yellowstone National Park was most helpful. 

"I tried to paint the pictures, especially the flames and smoke, freely, with lots of energy as I?d promised Dorothy. One of the most difficult parts of painting a number of pictures that all go together in one book, to tell one story, is that they all have to look like they should go together. In my efforts to be consistent, I tend to tighten up as I work. Though I painted the helicopter tight and mechanical, I tried to paint the forest and fire freely. As a result the trees were looking different from one picture to next...different tones, brush strokes and textures. In fact, as I came closer and closer to being finished, I began to wonder if I might have to start all over. But the last few days I worked on all the pictures at once, using a sponge to help make the trees consistent, and adding bits of color here and there until it became what it was intended to be...one piece of art with sixteen parts."

Published by Clarion Books, 1993 
ISBN 0-395-61197-0 
Out of print but available at your local library

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