American Fire

American Fire

Love, Arson, and Life in A Vanishing Land

Book - 2017
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"The arsons started on a cold November midnight and didn't stop for months. Night after night, the people of Accomack County waited to see which building would burn down next, regarding each other at first with compassion, and later suspicion. Vigilante groups sprang up, patrolling the rural Virginia coast with cameras and camouflage. Volunteer firefighters slept at their stations. The arsonist seemed to target abandoned buildings, but local police were stretched too thin to surveil them all. Accomack was desolate--there were hundreds of abandoned buildings. And by the dozen they were burning. The culprit, and the path that led to these crimes, is a story of twenty-first century America....Though it's hard to believe today, 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. In an already remote region, limited employment options offer little in the way of opportunity. A mesmerizing and crucial panorama with nationwide implications, American Fire asks what happens when a community gets left behind. Hesse brings to life the Eastern Shore and its inhabitants, battling a punishing economy and increasingly terrified by a string of fires they could not explain. The result evokes the soul of rural America--a land half gutted before the fires even began." -- provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York, N.Y. :, Liveright Publishing Corporation,, [2017]
Edition: First edition
Copyright Date: ©2017
ISBN: 9781631490514
Characteristics: 255 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm


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Oct 03, 2018

Kindle Immersion Read
'American Fire' moves along at a good clip, well-written and researched.
Even the Notes and end matter are fascinating.
What started out as a newspaper story developed into much more. Todd Godwin, Sheriff of Accomack County, told Monica Hesse he couldn't imagine anyone could write an interesting book about [his] county. Well, she proved the man wrong. Not only is it interesting, but it's also Impressive!

Sep 13, 2018

In this novelish crime non-fiction I was chasing around town with the firefighters, police, and the arsonists themselves. Or were they pyromaniacs? The amount of fires, the length of time the crimes went unsolved, and the reason for this crime spree is head scratching. 86 fires in Accomack County on Eastern Shore in Virginia is quite a binge. Hesse also paints a clear picture of an economic declining area where way of life is being replaced by chain stores and modern commodities.

Aug 25, 2018

This is a very good read, the author, now an editor at the Washington Post, wrote a book that grabs your attention and kept it. I'm glad she wrote this story ….this fascinating tale had to be told. I read a comment about lack of details on the crimes themselves, well two people were 100% involved, but, only one of them openly talked about it, while others depending on their role, i.e., firefighter, law enforcement, acquaintances, observers., etc., told what they knew {or could} which added to the fabric of the story, most good stories come together from bits and pieces and human recall that lend more than just facts, similar to supporting actors. Being arson investigations, not all of the records were wide-open on this topic, fire department and law enforcement staff told what they could however, some details were not open to the public for obvious reasons.

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.

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