Shocked by a five-month arson spree that left a rural Virginia county reeling, Washington Post reporter Monica Hesse drove down to the desolate county of Accomack to cover the trial of Charlie Smith, who pled guilty to 67 counts of arson. But Charlie wasn’t lighting fires alone: his crimes were galvanized by a twisted love story. Over two years of reporting, Hesse uncovered the motives of this troubled addict and his struggling accomplice, girlfriend Tonya Bundick. In depicting the dangerous shift in their passionate relationship, Hesse brilliantly brings to life the once-thriving coastal community and its distressed inhabitants, decimated by a punishing economy and increasingly terrified by a string of fires they could not explain. Incorporating this drama into the long-overlooked history of arson in the United States, American Fire re-creates the anguished nights this quiet county lit up in flames, mesmerizingly evoking a microcosm of rural America–a land half gutted before the fires even began.