Devil in the North Woods: A novel of the tragic 1908 Metz, Michigan, wildfire

General Fiction, History

By Walt Shiel

Publisher : Slipdown Mountain Publications LLC

ABOUT Walt Shiel

Walt Shiel
Although born in Michigan, Walt Shiel was raised across the US and around the world as an Air Force “brat.” He started school on the Pacific Island of Guam during the Korean War and finished high school in France during the Vietnam War. Shortly after graduation, Charles DeGaulle kicked More...


In October 1908, a wildfire swept through northeast Michigan and consumed 900 homes and two million acres of farms and forest. Despite the valiant efforts of the farmers, lumbermen, and shopkeepers, only Lake Huron could quench the flames. With no fire watch towers, spotting aircraft, telephones, or organized firefighting and only limited telegraph, warnings were too few and too late. The conflagration left 43 dead and 4,600 homeless as the relentless winter loomed.

Devil in the North Woods accurately depicts the fires genesis, growth, and aftermath. The story's real-life protagonist, 10-year-old Henry Hardies, survived the fire but his mother and three younger sisters did not. Relying on Henry's personal recollections and Shiel's faithful recreation of time and place, the book vividly brings Henry's ordeal to life.

Devil in the North Woods contrasts the terror of natures destruction with a chronicle of family, love, sorrow, and recovery. The story leaves the reader buoyed by faith in the resilience of the human spirit and belief in loves ability to germinate amid the ashes of ruin.

The book includes a map and five historical photos.

Will have readers frantically turning the pages! This dramatic retelling of the largest wildfire in Michigan's history is well written and riveting. Based on newspaper accounts, documented interviews and oral histories, this tragedy comes to life for a new generation to understand...The author carefully laid the foundation by describing the town and introducing the key characters. Readers become connected to this place and its people, thereby forming a strong emotional attachment...Thanks to the writing ability of Walt Shiel, this catastrophic moment of history leaps off the written page and into the hearts of readers. --Joyce Handzo, In The Library Reviews

Shiels compassionate writing creates a community of bright, supportive, and determined people, whose characters develop and deepen as the fire growsthis novel never slows down, but leaves the reader with a great respect for the hardy, strong-willed people who fought and survived wildfires all across the States, and built up their lives in the aftermath. --Catherine Perkins, Historical Novel Society

Devil in the North Woods is a work of historical fiction, based on modern reports and oral histories of a terrible 1908 wildfire in Michigan. Ten-year-old Henry Hardies survived the fire that claimed his mother and three younger sisters; in real life, Hardess told personal stories that his own children have handed down to this day. Devil in the North Woods vividly recreates the terrible blaze from start to finish, the toll it took, and the trials of human beings forced to recover from the devastating losses it inflicted. Though Devil in the North Woods tells the story of man vs. nature, its core is emotional and human-centered. --Midwest Book Review

The best of the bunch reviewed here is Walt Shiel's hellraising account of a blazing inferno that torched the northern end of our peninsula...Written with the pace of a thriller, Devil in the North Woods is a grim but fascinating read, building a bonfire of the dusty pages of history. --Northern Express Weekly

WOW, What a Read! As a rule I am not a fan of fiction, historical or otherwise...However, every once in a while there is an exception and this book is a perfect example. I have been intrigued with Wildfires after once living on the western slope of Colorado and experiencing their often devastating effects first hand on numerous occasions...The author skillfully blends the true story of Michigan's largest wildfire in modern history...and the actual experiences of survivor Henry Hardies with a host of other tell a story that is highly readable, believable, and guaranteed to hold your interest from first page to last. The effects of the fire...are recounted in vivid detail and contain elements of love, death, sorrow, family, friendship, and rebirth that will leave the reader both a bit sad and yet hopeful...This is first-rate writing that at times will leave you wondering whether it is fact or fiction but in a manner that does not deceive or talk down to the reader. Highly Recommended. --Charles M. Nobles, Top 100 Reviewer