Mountain of Fire: The Eruption and Survivors of Mount St. Helens

Mountain of Fire: The Eruption and Survivors of Mount St. Helens
Age Range
Release Date
May 14, 2024
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Mountain of Fire is the narrative nonfiction account of the violent volcanic eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980, the story of the people who died, those who survived, and the heroes who fought to raise an alarm.

For weeks, the ground around Mount St. Helens shuddered like a dynamite keg ready to explode. There were legends of previous eruptions: violent fire, treacherous floods, and heat that had scoured the area. But the shaking and swelling was unlike any volcanic activity ever seen before. Day and night, scientists tried to piece together the mountain’s clues―yet nothing could prepare them for the destruction to come.

The long-dormant volcano seethed away, boiling rock far below the surface. Washington’s governor, Dixie Lee Ray, understood the despair that would follow from people being forced from their homes. How and when should she give orders to evacuate the area? And would that be enough to save the people from the eruption of Mount St. Helens?

Includes a QR code for a website featuring eye-catching photos of the eruption.

Editor review

1 review
Devastation beyond belief
Overall rating
Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
Learning Value
What worked:
Here is a non-fiction story where readers already know what’s going to happen. Mount St. Helens will eventually erupt and cause widespread devastation and death. The chapters chronicle scientists measuring, observing, studying their instruments, and researching past eruptions as they try to explain the earthquakes, tremors, and gassy plumes of smoke. Most of the scientists expect something to happen but they can’t say for certain exactly what it will be or when. Unfortunately, reporters and the public want answers to these questions and they begin to doubt whether Mount St. Helens poses a serious threat. Readers know the mountain will violently explode so they’ll realize any skepticism is delaying the implementation of life-saving safety plans.
Most readers will have some knowledge of volcanoes but they may be surprised that Mount St. Helens wasn’t ordinary. Scientists often use earthquake patterns and analysis of gases to understand what’s happening but the data from Mount St. Helens is confusing. Earthquakes are typically caused by sections of rock rubbing and shifting but the seismic readings this time don’t seem to match that expectation. The history of Mount St. Helens doesn’t suggest much force will be directed laterally but that’s exactly what caused most of the destruction in 1980. Different scientists have insightful thoughts after studying data on the mountain but their theories are still taken as speculation and significant precautions aren’t taken in time.
The book humanizes the Mount St. Helens disaster by introducing real people who lived and died through it. One scientist states, “Our worst-case scenario was far, far exceeded.” Many chapters in the second half of the book describe people trying to avoid the perils of the eruption. Every page tells someone’s survival story and highlights their determination and resiliency. Flying debris falls from the skies and heavy ash coats the ground several feet deep. Trees five or six feet in diameter topple like matchsticks and some people manage to live by hiding under the huge trunks and roots. Muddy floods speed down the mountain and the book shares the adventure of a man and woman caught in the torrent.
What didn’t work as well:
The early chapters read like a documentary which might not appeal to general middle-grade readers. As the book gets into the survival stories, I find myself wanting pictures or photographs in the book of the people. There are so many people included that it’s hard to distinguish one person from another. There’s a QR code at the beginning for readers to access photographs.
The final verdict:
The early part of the book will interest volcano and science lovers while the rest of it will appeal to those who enjoy adventure. The author manages to effectively mix facts and information with human interest to create an enlightening, entertaining tale of the Mount St. Helens eruption. Overall, I recommend you give this book a shot.
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