It takes ninety seconds to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Human beings, on average, can hold their breath for up to ninety seconds. A typical person needs ninety seconds to read one page of this book.
Ninety seconds marked the moment between life and death on the night of February 20, 2003, at The Station, a scruffy, low-slung roadhouse nightclub in the old New England mill town of West Warwick, Rhode Island.
Tragedy started with a song.
Shortly after eleven the rock group Jack Russell’s Great White took to the club’s stage with screeching guitars in the dark. On cue the band’s tour manager Daniel Biechele set off four gerbs—giant sparklers set on the floor behind the lead singer, two blasting bolts of sparks to the sides and two in the middle directed up toward the club’s low, dark, glittered ceiling.
Thomas Dunne Books
St. Martin's Publishing Group
Release Date: 10/27/2020
The fireworks lasted seventeen seconds and were meant to evoke the aging metal band’s former stadium glory days in the nineties, creating an ethereal glow behind the performers. The audience went wild.
The sparks ignited a small fire on the wall to the left of the stage. Nine seconds later a second trickle of flames appeared on the wall to the right of the stage.
These are the opening sentences of Trial by Fire, the story of the deadliest single building fire in modern American history. It’s also the deadliest rock concert ever in the United States. One hundred people died when the aging metal band Great White lit off fireworks inside a small roadside nightclub called The Station in the old New England mill town of West Warwick, Rhode Island.
A disaster of this size was not supposed to happen in an age of safety laws with billions spent to prevent such tragedies. In a terrible twist, a local TV news crew captured the inferno on video from inside the club. Millions around the world watched the footage in horror.
Despite this attention and the magnitude of the tragedy, there here were never any trials, criminal or civil, and key questions remained unsolved.
Several of the fire’s central figures refused to talk. Until now.
What emerges is a stunning tale of tragedy and survival, of people put through a crucible and tested and tried beyond their limits. It is also a warning about the failings of America’s institutions and the safety net we believe will protect us.
ADVANCE PRAISE FOR TRIAL BY FIRE
“When Scott James tells the tragedy of The Station nightclub fire, he does for Rhode Island what Truman Capote did for Kansas. With new evidence and interviews, he traces the horror that left 100 dead and hundreds more scarred for life, and in James’ new investigation, none are spared. From the judicial system to the media to the club owners and vendors, each is subjected to a reporter’s scepticism, and an insider’s unflinching compassion. This is journalism as it is meant to be."
— Raj Patel, author of the New York Times bestseller The Value of Nothing