American fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land

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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. Washington Post reporter Monica Hesse first drove down to the reeling county to cover a hearing for Charlie Smith, a struggling mechanic who upon his capture had promptly pleaded guilty to sixty-seven counts of arson. But as Charlie's confession unspooled, it got deeper and weirder. He wasn't lighting fires alone; his crimes were galvanized by a surprising love story. Over a year of investigating, Hesse uncovered the motives of Charlie and his accomplice, girlfriend Tonya Bundick, a woman of steel-like strength and an inscrutable past. Theirs was a love built on impossibly tight budgets and simple pleasures. They were each other's inspiration and escape...until they weren't.

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.

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9781631490514
9781631494512
9781520075860
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Grouping Information

Grouped Work ID 99127e24-6be2-db39-c1eb-27beae965b44
Grouping Title american fire love arson and life in a vanishing land
Grouping Author hesse monica
Grouping Category book
Last Grouping Update 2019-08-17 22:32:31PM
Last Indexed 2019-08-17 23:15:10PM

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display_description "The arsons started on a cold November midnight and didn't stop for months. Night after night, the people of Accomack County--once the richest rural county in the nation--waited to see which building would burn down next, regarding one another with compassion at first, and, later, suspicion. Vigilante groups sprang up, patrolling the rural coast. Volunteer firefighters slept at their stations. Local police were stretched thin. The arsonist seemed to target abandoned buildings, and by the dozen they were going up in flames. Over two years of investigation, Monica Hesse uncovered the motives of troubled mechanic Charlie Smith and his struggling accomplice, girlfriend Tonya Bundick. In depicting dangerous shifts in their fraught relationship, Hesse introduces the once-thriving coastal community, decimated by a punishing economy and increasingly afraid. American Fire re-creates the anguished nights when this quiet county was set on fire, evoking a microcosm of rural America--a land gutted before the fires even began."--Back cover.
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subject_facet Accomack County (Va.) -- Economic conditions
Accomack County (Va.) -- Social conditions
Arson -- Virginia -- Accomack County
Bundick, Tonya -- (Arsonist.)
Smith, Charlie -- (Arsonist.)
True crime stories
title_display American fire : love, arson, and life in a vanishing land
title_full American Fire Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land
American fire : love, arson, and life in a vanishing land / Monica Hesse
American fire : love, arson, and life in a vanishing land [electronic resource] / Monica Hesse
title_short American fire :
title_sub Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land
topic_facet Arson
Bundick, Tonya
Economic conditions
Nonfiction
Smith, Charlie
Social conditions
Sociology
True Crime