Gregory Gorbett/Eastern Kentucky University
Also see the related article, "Seven Myths About Arson."
On a rainy spring morning in eastern Kentucky, Greg Gorbett prepares to commit arson. His target is a tidy but cheerless one-bedroom apartment with the kind of mauve-colored carpet, couches, tables, and lamps you would find in a cheap motel. Gorbett is not the only one eager to see the place burn. A handful of other fire scientists and grad students from Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) are checking equipment in the test room as well. They have gathered at the EKU fire lab, a concrete structure in an open meadow as close to nowhere as possible, to document in exacting detail the life cycle of a blaze.
Gorbett scans the setup one last time. A foil-covered wire studded with metal probes—a thermocouple array—crosses the ceiling and hangs down the center of the space; it will measure the temperature at one-foot intervals every two seconds. A radiometer shaped like a soup can will detect changes in radiant energy. Bundles of yellow wires will carry the data to a computer-equipped truck sitting out back. There is also a man lying on the floor: James Pharr, a former fire investigator from Charlotte, North Carolina, wearing a fire-resistant suit and oxygen mask, who will record the event with a thermal-???imaging camera.