Today I bring you another non-fiction book, although totally different to yesterday’s (well, there are trees as well but…)
Pointe Patrol: How nine people (and a dog) saved their neighborhood from the most destructive fire in California’s history by Earik Beann. An inspiring real story about the power of true community spirit.
On October 9, 2017, California suffered one of the most destructive fires in its history. The Tubbs Fire burned 5,643 structures and killed twenty-two people in Sonoma County. The fire department was completely overwhelmed and was so busy trying to save lives that they had to let many houses burn rather than waste resources in trying to protect them. During this chaos, nine of us snuck back into our neighborhood in the mandatory evacuation zone and formed a vigilante fire force. We called ourselves the Pointe Patrol, and saved our neighborhood, as well as an apartment complex across the street from certain destruction. As if the fires weren’t enough, we found ourselves in the midst of anarchy, with looters running unchecked through the streets. We chased them out of houses with shovels, confronted them when they showed up in disguise, and patrolled the area with a completely over-the-top Doberman. The other neighbors who had evacuated organized themselves into our support network and supplied us with food and equipment, which they passed through to us across the police lines. My wife and I were part of that nine-person team and experienced all of this firsthand. This is the story of what happened at Viewpointe Circle during those two weeks in October.
*** 100% of profits from the sale of this book go to support fire victims and families of fallen first responders ***
What Amazon readers are saying…
★★★★★ “I can tell you his description of everything is so vivid I felt like I was there again reliving that night of terror.” ★★★★★ “An amazing true story that everyone should read!” ★★★★★ “I found myself in tears a few times while reading from the sheer excitement of their accomplishments, and grief from the fire’s fury.” ★★★★★ “A great story of how a neighborhood becomes just that, a true neighborhood, looking out for each other and working to keep it strong and safe.” ★★★★★ “This is a nail-biting account of everyday heroes coming together in an impossible situation, to try and save their community.” ★★★★★ “I read it in a day.” ★★★★★ “Earik’s book was great, very inspiring. I live in Penngrove and the fire was a half mile from our house, I cannot fathom what his neighborhood went through.”
“While working to gain perimeter control, I found the neighbors who had formed Pointe Patrol right in the middle of unprecedented destruction, protecting homes. The combination of hurricane force winds and tinderbox-dry conditions created a perfect storm for the fire that they battled against.”
– Battalion Chief Jason Jenkins, SRFD
From the Author
NOVEMBER 8, 2018: The sky is hazy today, and there is a heavy smell of smoke that is getting worse by the hour. As I stepped outside, I was greeted by that all-too-familiar smell, and was met with swirling pieces of white ash. There’s a fire in Butte County, and the smoke has been pushed down into Sonoma by the wind. As I took a moment to stand alone in the street before getting into my car, I had a flashback to what happened exactly 13 months ago, when the Tubbs Fire came barreling into Santa Rosa and destroyed 5% of the housing stock overnight. During that chaos, nine of us stayed in our neighborhood and formed a vigilante fire force. We spent the next two weeks putting out fires, chasing off looters, and bonding in a way that doesn’t happen in regular times. The other neighbors called us the Pointe Patrol, coining the term from Viewpointe Circle, our street name.
To this day, I am frequently reminded of that time thirteen months ago. It happens not only when I wave to the neighbors, but also every time I drive home. The neighborhood to the west is gone, the neighborhood to the north is gone, and the neighborhood to the south is gone. All burned to the ground. A house here or there has been rebuilt, swarmed over by the countless construction companies that have moved into the area. Most are still just empty lots, the silent witnesses to what happened here in 2017. But our neighborhood stands, because Pointe Patrol saved it. And the apartment complex to the east also stands. Pointe Patrol saved that too.
After going through something like that, people decompress in a lot of ways. For me, I started writing. I started with the night when I woke up to my neighbor banging on my door in the wee hours of the morning, and I kept going until the evacuation was finally lifted and our neighbors were allowed to come back. I wrote about putting the fire in my backyard out with the garden hose, and about the hours we spent putting out smoldering mulch at the apartment complex, and about all the looters that tried to sneak into our neighborhood, sometimes in masks, and more often with elaborate disguises. I wrote about Oscar, my Doberman, who became the guard dog for an entire street. I wrote about exhausted firemen, passed out on our lawns that first night, and the amazing heart of Sonoma County, where gas stations lowered prices rather than raised them. I wrote about everything. And it became a book.
Today, exactly thirteen months after the event, that book finally got registered on Amazon. It goes live on Monday. I don’t know what will happen with it now that I’ve put it out in the world. I only know that what happened in those two weeks changed my life. Stories like that shouldn’t be forgotten. Stories like that need to be told. And so, in this case, I’m going to do my best to tell it. This is dedicated to you, Pointe Patrol. You know who you are.
About the author:
Over the years I’ve been involved in many small businesses, including software development, an online vitamin store, specialty pet products, a commodity pool, and a publishing house. You could say I’ve got a bad case of serial entrepreneurism. But above and beyond all that, my original love has always been writing and telling stories.
As a teenager, I wrote two fantasy novels during summer break. Neither were published–which is probably for the best!–but I loved working on those books, and learned a lot by writing them. Later, I authored six technical books on very esoteric subjects related to financial markets. Those were meant for an extremely niche audience, and would be insanely boring to anyone outside that specific group of people.
In October 2017, I found myself at ground zero in the middle of the Tubbs Fire. A group of nine of us snuck back into our neighborhood in the middle of a mandatory evacuation zone, formed a vigilante fire fighting force, and saved our block (and an apartment complex!) from certain destruction. Working on my memoir of those experiences brought me back to those summers as a teenager spent working on my fantasy novels, and rekindled a deep love for writing that I had somehow forgotten about. Now it’s all I really want to do anymore.
I live in California with my wife, Laura, and our Doberman and two Tennessee barn cats. When not thinking of stories, I enjoy practicing yoga, riding my bike, and playing the Didgeridoo.
I am writing this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you’re looking for reviews, I recommend you check her amazing site here), and I thank her and the author for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.
Earlier this year I read and reviewed a novel by Earik Beann (you can check my review of Killing Adam here), the author of this book, and I noticed he had published a non-fictional account of something he had experienced first-hand, the 2017 Tubbs Fire in California. I kept thinking about that in light of more recent fires, and having enjoyed his other book, I decided to read this one. It is definitely different, but then, non-fictional writing and especially memoirs, always are. I don’t mean I didn’t enjoy it, that I did, but it was a different experience. So, for those who don’t enjoy science-fiction but were curious about the author’s work, well, this is a great option.
This is an inspiring book and a fascinating account of what happened to a group of people who were fortunate enough (with a fair amount of human help as well) to have their houses survive a terrible fire that killed forty-four people, burned over 245000 acres and cost at least $9.5 billion in insured damages (and around $85 billion to the US economy). As the author notes, these group of people were not all house owners (he and his wife, Laura, were renting, and so were a number of the people who formed the #Pointe Patrol), but they somehow took it upon themselves to keep the neighbourhood safe.
The story reads like one of those fiction books (or movies) where a bunch of people —who have little in common and are pretty normal— discover their inner heroes and come together achieving great things. Only, this is not a fictional account. Yes, these are pretty normal people, and although some knew each other from before, the author makes the point more than once that due to his job, mostly online, he did not have much contact with the neighbours, and it is his wife who comes up with the idea of creating a chat group for the neighbours that they use to keep everybody informed of what is happening, both the people who have managed to return to the evacuated area, like they have, and also those who are outside and whose houses are still standing. As we read, we learn information about the neighbours, although not necessarily in a lot of detail (some are stubborn, some are control freaks, other have an interesting sense of humour, they are not always truthful…), and we also hear some of their opinions and prejudices (yes, we might not always agree with their politics, with their ideas on certain subjects) and, thankfully, they are not perfect. Earik and his wife are ‘the yoga people’, and other than some regular get-togethers, many of them knew each other only superficially, if at all. There is also a couple who remain in the area and never participate in any of the general efforts, and they sound quite disagreeable. So this is not an idealised version of reality, although it is an inspiring story that illustrates that people can get on when they have a sense of purpose and a mission higher than themselves, and they all work together towards a goal.
Saying that, it is difficult to read the book and not think that it would make a good TV movie. You have the retired fire-fighter, stubborn and determined, who ends up being known as Chief, you have another neighbour who works in the SQUAT team, Wayne, Eddie, who turns his garage into the neighbourhood coffee-shop and bar, two Mikes, the police and the national guard, Oscar —Earik’s Doberman, who loves his new role as proper guard dog—, their two cats, and also the people outside who keep in touch via text and provide as much support as they can with food supplies, medications, and also updates on news and life in general.
I was surprised at times at how vivid a picture the book portrays of the situation, and how, despite the fact that they are pretty much isolated and become, as the author describes it more than once, ‘a tribe’, the bigger society and its trappings interferes every so often, giving everybody reason to pause. There are the looters, always trying to get in and rob whatever they can, there are times when the reactions of the police to different individuals vary a lot depending on who they are (yes, race do matters, even in emergency situations, it seems), and although in this case the emergency seems to get the best out of this group of people, that is not the case with everybody involved.
Is there anything I didn’t enjoy? Well, the story is told from the author’s perspective, and as can happen with memoirs, it is not written as a thriller where action is everything and no extraneous information is offered. The author sometimes goes off on tangents, including information about his and his wife’s personal circumstances (they had moved very often up to that point), stories about their cats and dogs, also about how to handle a big dog, his point of view on firearms (not one I share, and the arguments he uses to try to convince his wife would definitely not convince me), a long dissertation on a particular local beer and its merits, and some pretty personal things, and although I mostly enjoyed those and they made it come more alive for me, I suspect they might be frustrating for some people, and I’ve read some reviews that mention those.
My other worry was the fact that, no matter how well they did and the amazing thing they achieved, their circumstances were very special, and it is not something that everybody should consider if faced with a similar situation. They had a retired fireman living in the neighbourhood, and they were lucky enough to have a sufficient number of neighbours taking part, with necessary materials, water, and enough outside support to manage to pull it off. (I could not help but wonder what would have happened if that was not the case and how different the results might have been in a neighbourhood without resources, financial and otherwise). Basically, keep safe and follow advice. Readers might take issue with other things: there is no gender equality at work here (Laura is the only woman there, she leaves at some point, and the rest of the women are supporting from outside, although there are policewomen and a woman member of the National Guard as well, but not members of the group), and, as I mentioned, some of the personal attitudes and comments might not be to everybody’s taste, but that is understandable when we are reading a true account, rather than a fictional one.
I enjoyed the narration, and felt as if I had shared in some of the sense of community and joint purpose of the group. I also enjoyed the off-track comments (some), learning more about how the emergency services work and are organised, and I loved Oscar and the cats as well. The fact that the profits for the sale of the book will go to support fire victims and to the families of fallen first-responders is another good reason to recommend the book. If you’re looking for an inspiring true-account of people dealing with an emergency situation, and you are fascinated by community spirit, I definitely recommend this.
Thanks to the author and to Rosie and her team, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and keep reading and smiling! And of course, thanks to the emergency teams all the world over.