American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land by Monica Hesse
From November 2012 until April 2013, Accomack County in coastal Virginia suffered an arson spree that left law enforcement scrambling.
Eighty six fires were set in those five months. They were always set at abandoned properties or locations where no one was home. In one instance, chickens were intentionally released from their run so they could escape the fire.
Volunteer firefighters began to sleep at their stations, called out sometimes twice a night to put out fires on abandoned properties. Police set up checkpoints along main roads and attempted surveillance at as many abandoned homes as possible.
In a small town where everyone knows each other, it was impossible to believe one of their own was setting these fires.
When police finally apprehended their serial arsonists – yes, there were two – Accomack County was stunned to learn it was former volunteer firefighter Charlie Smith and his girlfriend Tonya Bundick.
Reporter Monica Hesse gives readers a look at the community, its residents, and the peculiar relationship of Charlie and Tonya that led to over eighty fires in their small town. What started as a brief article for the Washington Postbecame a 240 page true crime book that captured my attention completely.
Hesse delivers the information we need without info dumping historical information, statistics, or fire science. While readers know who the the arsonist is from the beginning, I was compelled to follow the timeline of the fires and the doomed relationship, turning the pages to learn why the couple did it. I appreciated the perspectives of the firemen, investigators, and locals as well as the drama between Charlie and Tonya once they were apprehended!
An excellent true crime story with a pitch-perfect delivery from Monica Hesse.