American Fire

American Fire

Love, Arson, and Life in A Vanishing Land

Book - 2017
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One hundred years ago Accomack was the richest rural county in the nation. Slowly it's been drained of its industry-- agriculture-- as well as its wealth and population. The arsons started on a November night in 2012 and didn't stop for months. The people waited to see which abandoned building would burn down next, regarding each other at first with compassion, and later suspicion. Vigilante groups sprang up; volunteer firefighters slept at their stations. The culprits were galvanized by a surprising love story built on tight budgets and simple pleasures, in a land half gutted before the fires even began.
Publisher: New York, N.Y. : Liveright Publishing Corporation, [2017]
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9781631490514
Branch Call Number: 364.1642 H463
Characteristics: 255 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm


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PimaLib_NormS Mar 14, 2018

In the literary world, there are few things I like better than a good ol’ 364 (364 refers to the Dewey Decimal number for criminology, otherwise known as true crime). Monica Hesse has penned a page-turner in “American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land”. I have read quite a few true crime stories over the years, and I never cease to be amazed at what people will do in the name of love. Of course, it usually is someone’s warped, even sick, version of love, but still. It has been said that love is blind, and the self-professed in love fire-setters in “American Fire” seemingly were blind to the possible consequences of running up to a building and torching it. These fires took place in Virginia’s Eastern Shore area, which is the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula. It is economically depressed, rural, and somewhat isolated. It was rather easy for the arsonists to approach a building, light it up, and then take off. They were able to set 60+ fires in 5 ½ months before they were apprehended. It put quite a strain on the local volunteer fire departments and law enforcement, and Hesse does an excellent job of weaving their points of view together with the arsonists’ to form a coherent, even gripping, narrative. In other words, I liked it.

Mar 01, 2018

This book is written like a fictional story of a couple gone down the wrong path. Family neglect, drugs etc. are the usual suspects. What makes this "tale" so interesting is that it's all true. I could not put this down. Once I started I was fully committed & driven to learn the ending.

ArapahoePamelaH Jan 16, 2018

Ever wonder why people set fires? In the case of the 80 fires set in 5 months in Accomack County, Virginia, love might have had something to do with it. An interesting look at life on the rural Eastern Shore, and why people do what they really know they shouldn't.

Jan 16, 2018

Ever wonder why people set fires? In the case of the 80 fires set in 5 months in Accomack County, Virginia, love might have had something to do with it. An interesting look at life on the rural Eastern Shore, and why people do what they really know they shouldn't.

Nov 05, 2017

If you like True Crime books, def get this one.

I was very familiar with the story/crime.

There is NO mystery as to who is setting the fires...the author informs you right away, but why? I knew the answer to why, but that isn't explained to the reader until they get caught, and how that happened was why I wanted to read the book.

Due to NO fault of the author, I just couldn't read the first half - the details of the 68 or so fires. Even though there was no loss of life, and the buildings/houses were (mostly) abandoned, my heart went out to all the sleepless and exhausted volunteer firemen and lawmen. I had to skip ahead to how they were caught, and I found the story/writing very interesting regarding the confession (and non) interviews and trials.

LPL_LizS Nov 03, 2017

A fascinating look into the daily lives of citizens of rural Accomack County, Virginia who are trying to deal with a devastating string of crimes. Hesse captures the arson in great journalistic detail, weaving a lot of information into a compelling narrative. These fires illuminate the deep struggles of a small community with a dying economy, where everyone is just looking for a better life.

Oct 31, 2017

Reads as one would expect since it's a journalist's expanded writings of a featured crime story. Well-told tale of a Virginia county forced to adjust life to a never-ending series of arson fires that take a tremendous toll on all its residents, including the arsonists.

Oct 22, 2017

The story isn't just about the many fires but the person(s) responsible for setting them. What is most amazing is the "why". It's a twisted and sad story but compelling.

Cynthia_N Aug 23, 2017

It was astonishing to read how many fires were set before the culprits were caught. There were people camping at abandoned home sites and cameras set up but it still took months before they were able to catch the guilty parties. Good read!

ArapahoeKati May 11, 2017

Sort of like "Hillbilly Elegry" but with arson. Great if you like true crime and social history. Read in a single night.


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