Tom Petty recounts near-fatal arson in new book

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Rocker Tom Petty is opening up in
detail for the first time about the arson fire that destroyed
his house in 1987, likening the deed to a rape and admitting he
was rattled for years afterwards.

Petty recounts the near-fatal incident in the upcoming
memoir, “Conversations with Tom Petty,” written by Paul Zollo.
It is set for release in November via Omnibus Press.

The blaze occurred on May 17, 1987 at Petty’s Encino,
Calif. home as he and his (now-former) wife were preparing to
host her birthday party. One of their two daughters was also
home, as was a housekeeper whose hair caught fire as she tried
to hose down the flames. Petty also grabbed a hose, but it
melted in his hands, he recalls.

Everything was lost, apart from a few guitars and some
tapes, but they were lucky to get out alive. He says he was
initially dubious when told that the fire had been deliberately
lit, but then firefighters showed him where someone had lit a
can of lighter fluid and thrown it against the wall.

“We were shaken for years by it,” says Petty, adding that
he could not bring himself to use the word “fire” in a song.
“It’s sort of like being raped, I would imagine. It really took
a long time. And it was 10 times as bad, because you knew that
somebody just went and did it. Somebody tried to off you.”

In the book, he gives special mention to Annie Lennox, who
was on the scene because her Eurythmics partner Dave Stewart
lived next door to the Pettys. She was “bright enough” to
realize that everyone would need clothes and shoes, so
immediately rushed out and bought “some pretty nice stuff.”

The family moved into a hotel for a few weeks, with
beefed-up security, and Petty took them on the road with his
band the Heartbreakers to join Bob Dylan on a tour of Europe
and Israel. “Without a possession. Without anything,” he says
with a laugh in the book.

A bigger house was eventually rebuilt on the property,
partly because Petty wanted to show the unknown arsonist that
he would not back down.