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John Riha
Author, Illustrator
Incident 395
John Riha, author

Adult; General Fiction (including literary and historical); (Market)

The Devil is loose in southern Oregon. A monster wildfire explodes and begins to devour everything in its path. Miles from any roads, a father and his blind 11-year-old daughter are trapped while backpacking in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. Smoke, flames, and tornadic winds thwart efforts to save them. The only way into the violent firestorm may be a dangerous, off-the-books rescue attempt proposed by a pair of rappelling firefighters. But there’s no way out.
Riha (The Bounty Huntress) offers an exciting, high-stakes rescue thriller set in the forests of Oregon, alive with fascinating detail that fuels the suspense. The book’s heart is a daring, unconventional rescue of a father and his blind teenage daughter from a raging forest wildfire, though Riha is also interested in the logistics of how these fires are monitored and controlled, digging with a reporter’s eye into the command structure, practices, shoptalk, tech, and culture of the agencies and response teams—some staffed with prison inmates. The result is, in some ways, a tense wildfire procedural.

But it’s four characters who drive the story. Will and Kal Spencer, on a hike in the forest as a much-needed bonding activity, and firefighters Lucas Bowden and Corby Jones. Bowden is haunted by the death of a former crew member, while Jones is a go-getter who understands her status as a woman out in the field means she has to prove herself. When the hikers go missing, amid the “big timber and towering mountains” of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, the firefighters are mobilized to find the missing hikers, though Jones senses that a drug problem may compromise Bowden.

Riha ramps up the tension when Kal and Will are separated and discover that the dangers they face aren’t all in nature, especially when a prisoner-firefighter proves not to have the hikers’ best interests at heart. The firefighters’ efforts at a rescue offer explosive, adrenaline-fueled action. A ground and air evacuation impossible because of the fire, and Bowden cleverly suggests they go by river, which proves another source of elemental danger—and white-knuckle adventure. The twists and obstacles keep coming, though the attention to detail, such as background information on wildfires and firefighting plus the backstories of a host of characters, means the story takes some time to heat up, but once this slow-burning thriller ignites it fully rages, and readers who love outdoor adventure will be caught up.

Takeaway: This white-knuckle rescue thriller offers a terrifying wildfire and rich procedural detail.

Great for fans of: Kurt Kamm, Andrew Pyper’s The Wildfire Season.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B+
Marketing copy: A


John Riha is one of those rare authors who provides delectable detail (think John McPhee) with an irresistible plot line (a la Ken Follett) to deliver a truly fine piece of fiction. Incident 395 is Riha’s newest novel, following on his excellent The Bounty Huntress (2017) and the non-fiction Rookies in the Wild (2013). Incident 395 carries us into the high-risk world of fighting forest fires in the Oregon wilderness. And it is a wild ride.

This reader would have been content if Incident 395 was only about the fascinating world of forest fire fighting, so granular are the details of gear, training, and tactics. (It should be required reading for Forest Service candidates.) So it’s a delightful bonus to also have a compelling story loaded with a cast of characters well worth caring about. Incident 395 is a great read.


Reader's Favorite

Incident 395 by John Riha is a page-turner based on the real fear and dangers of an intense fire. It is brilliant because the plot originates from the real-life experiences of many of the main characters. The antagonist is a fire - later classified as a Type 2 Incident. John Riha provides a first-hand account of the job of the brave rappellers and what they face when trying to assist in stopping the spread of a fire. In this story, a blind eleven-year-old girl and her father are in the path of a spreading fire. They are blissfully hiking in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness before they realize the danger. The rappellers engage in a unique but daring rescue mission to save them. Will the rappellers reach them before the fire does?

The plot of Incident 395 by John Riha is dramatic and suspenseful. It takes place in the Siskiyou Mountain range. The story shows the different viewpoints involved. One is that of the commander at the Tincup Fire campsite. Another side is that of the rappellers and the conflict and emotional turmoil that they may face. There is also the viewpoint of the distraught mother who is worried about her child. In addition, the blind daughter's anguish is equally terrifying. For me, these moments were the most poignant. The dialogue is realistic and understandable. The end of the book contains a glossary of the terms explaining all the acronyms and abbreviations used. I thought the factual content on the distinct fire aspects was excellent.