Santa Rosa businessman's book 'Pointe Patrol' a moving tale of fire resistance
The raging fires of October 2017 left tragic stories in their wake, including lives lost and lives upended by the mass destruction.
But for 43-year-old Earik Beann of Viewpointe Circle in Santa Rosa, the Tubbs fire also inspired a silver-linings playbook: It brought his small Fountaingrove neighborhood together into a tight-knit family.
Beann and his wife, Laura, were among nine residents and a dog — Oscar, their Doberman — who hunkered in place to fight off embers, hot spots and looters during the deadly days after the fire roared over the ridges of Fountaingrove and hurled itself across the highway into Coffey Park.
About six months after the fire, Beann discovered another bright side to the tragedy. The fire had rekindled his early interest in writing — since graduating from University of Colorado, Boulder, he had been working in software development and finance — and at the urging of friends, he started writing down the tale of how his tiny street found strength in numbers.
'The next thing I knew, I had the first chapter and about 40 pages,' he said, sitting in the Peet's Coffee just down the hill from his house.
'It became cathartic. When you go through a big thing like that, it's good to get it out. It's like going to therapy.'
By November 2018, Beann had not only started his own publishing company but published a fire memoir, 'Pointe Patrol: How Nine People (and a Dog) Saved Their Neighborhood From One of the Most Destructive Fires in California's History' (Profoundly One, $16.95) The story is punctuated by the cellphone texts, both serious and amusing, that flew back and forth among his neighbors during the crucial two weeks after the fire.
Ironically, Beann released his book on the same day that the deadly Camp fire erupted in Butte County. Proceeds from the book go to fire victims and the California Fire Foundation, which supports the families of fallen first responders.
'I wanted to wait to publish it because so many people had lost so much … it seemed good to give it some space,' he said. 'But I thought it was important to tell the story because there were so many bad stories, and this was a good one.'
Beann said his neighborhood, located just off Fountaingrove Parkway and below Keysight Technologies, already boasted a core group of people who enjoyed getting together for potlucks even before the October 2017 disaster struck.
'When the fire hit, it all coalesced,' he said. 'By day three, we started turning into a tribe. We all ate together at headquarters (a neighborhood driveway/garage) and we became a family … there was something about it that felt really right as a human being.'
A heroic team effort
The modest neighborhood of about 30 homes, shaped like a 'Q' with a short spur road off to one side, lost only three homes to the fire, thanks to its volunteer 'tribe' — dubbed the 'Pointe Patrol' — including two first responders who lived there and a raft of evacuated neighbors who would ferry up food, water, ice and even a generator to the nine-member patrol.
'We were very lucky … because we had an active duty sheriff's deputy and a retired fireman who stayed behind and recruited some of the younger folks,' said Joel Butler, an evacuated resident whose house suffered smoke damage. 'They saved my house with garden hoses, and that's how the five houses on the ridge are still there.'
The Pointe Patrol also managed to save The Boulders, a 124-unit apartment complex just across Altruria Drive from Viewpointe. The complex kept them busy with multiple hot spots constantly erupting in the mulched landscaping for several days. One of the chapters in the book is dedicated to an epic all-nighter the patrol spent at the complex.
'Those guys from Viewpointe Circle … were true heroes in that they came back several days in a row to The Boulders and put blazes out that ignited after the fire department had moved on down the hills,' said Don Prial, a resident who evacuated from The Boulders for 16 days. 'We had no idea what we'd find in the aftermath.'
The apartment complex is bordered on one side by a deep ditch full of brush and on the other side by a steep, grassy hill, where fire tornadoes would form and 'shoot out embers the size of dinner plates,' Beann said.
'If The Boulders or the ditch went, we were going to leave,' he said. 'That's why we spent so much time over there putting out hot spots.'
Some 1½ years later, Viewpointe Circle and The Boulders still stand, small islands of normalcy amid a wasteland of empty lots and noisy, construction sites, from the flattened Miramonte neighborhood below to Fountainview Circle and Gardenview Circle above, where most of the homes were also destroyed.