Blaze

Nicholas Faith, Author St. Martin's Press $23.95 (208p) ISBN 978-0-312-26128-3
Rockmaster Three may have sung ""The roof is on fire,"" but it's no party to be in a burning building--and no picnic to find out how fires started or to catch those who set them. London-based journalist Faith (Black Box; Mayday) has made a specialty of disaster-detectives: his taut new volume chronicles fire investigators, the professionals who determine the probable cause and course of a dangerous fire after it has been put out. Faith devotes a chapter to a 1985 casino fire in Puerto Rico, in which modern materials scientists collaborated with old-fashioned cops: present-day fire investigation, Faith explains, dates from that event. Another chapter treats other conflagrations, in the London Underground and in Dublin's Stardust disco. Faith examines the origins of and flaws in fire codes, and the surprising causes of several blazes. He devotes several chapters to arson and arsonists--including to Seattle's still-mysterious late-'80s blazes set with rocket fuel and to a Philadelphia tire fire near I-95, set by a ring of teenage serial arsonists. A series of California blazes turned out, disturbingly, to be the work of a professional fire investigator, who actually wrote--and sent to a publisher--a ""fact-based"" novel detailing his crimes. Finally, Faith examines evacuations: how might planners understand what people do when inside a building on fire, and how might designers help them escape? Faith has picked an intrinsically riveting topic, one that combines police work, physics, design and the social sciences. Half John McPhee, half Law & Order, his book is very hard to put down. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 07/31/2000
Release date: 08/01/2000
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FORMATS
Mass Market Paperbound - 256 pages - 978-0-312-97978-2
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