The majority of the fatal fire stories I have read via my Google Alerts have had one thing in common. Some have been about fires started by arsonists. Some have been about fires caused by space heaters. Some have been about fires in nursing homes. But almost every article has been focused on the cause.
“How did the fire start?” seems to be the main question when reporters report on these incidents, with “How many people were killed or injured?” as the obvious follow up. And, duh, these questions are important. But it never seems to go beyond that, unless it’s a needless investigation into a “trend” or a list of tips to avoid starting a fire yourself.
One article looked into the history of the arsonist who had killed an elderly woman in a fire. It was harrowing, but it was also enthralling. Don’t know why, but this guy had a fascination with burning stuff down. There were some incredible details, like how he just stood on the porch and smoked a cigarette as the house burned, or how he forced his daughter to start a fire in a past incident and the judge said he’d never forget it because the “daughter blurted out, ‘Daddy made me do it.'” Those details made this article one of the most — if not the most — interesting of all that I had read. It told a story instead of just recounting raw facts. It was sad, but it was a much more engaging read. However, all the details and superior reporting were rooted in the past.
The articles never get past the incident. They are always stuck in Stage I. I understand that this gets a little tricky, because I’m reading about fatal fires. You can’t do a follow-up piece months later on how the fire is affecting a dead person. But these people have families. They’re members of communities. I want to read stories about the effect the fire had on brains, not just lungs. This is something I’m going to be doing when I interview someone affected by a fire later in the semester, and it’s exciting, because I’ll get to put my notebook where my mouth is. But it’s also a little scary, because I don’t have a whole lot of examples to imitate from what I’ve seen in the media.