There was a controversy about the escape fire. Some suggested the escape fire had caught and killed the fleeing men. Maclean and the survivors rebut this. It was the racing main fire that caught them After the fire blew up, around 5:30, it began to gain speed. By the time it caught the men, it was likely travelling at 100 yards per minute. It sounds slow compared to a competitive sprinter - but the men were running workboots in waist high grass on a 45 degree slope, in terrible heat, choked by smoke and tired after earlier exertions. Maclean carefully assesses the suggestion that Wag Dodge's escape fire caught the dead men, or raced ahead of them and prevented them from gaining the safety of the ridge, and he absolves Dodge.
Maclean's editors found a note among his papers, and they could not work it into the story, so they used it as a preface. He said: "As I get considerably beyond the biblical allotment of three score years and ten, I feel with increasing intensity that I can express my gratitude for still being around on the oxygen-side of the earth's crust only by not standing pat on what I have hitherto known and loved. While the oxygen lasts, there are still new things to love, especially if compassion is a form of love."
In the final section and chapter of the book Maclean returns to his image of the stations of the cross. He looks at the monster the fire has become. He says that he is guided by the understanding we have gained from ourselves and those close to us. He mentions talking to a doctor about death by suffocation by lack of oxygen in a fire. He mentions something his wife said in her final illness - cancer of the esophagus - that she felt she had her head underwater.
At the end of "Young Men and Fire," in a few brilliant pages, Maclean accompanies the dead men. He suggests their response to sudden death would be, first, the prayer: Good Lord deliver us. He quotes something one of the two survivors had said he had thought as he ran through the smoke: "My god how could you do this to us." A few lines later, he returns to this thought: "My god why hast thou foresaken me?" He then turns to the ground, and the men on the ground. He accompanies them on their final steps in a journey of compassion.