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Santa Rosa businessman's book 'Pointe Patrol' a moving tale of fire resistance

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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.

While giving a tour of the devastated Gardenview Circle neighborhood, Beann noted that the only things that survived on that street were phone books, mailboxes, barbecue grills — plus one ceramic pig and one house.

“This is where you come to be astounded,” he said. “They are all by themselves here. I’m not sure whether they were lucky or not.”

How the patrol formed

Luck certainly had a lot to do with the survival of Viewpointe Circle, as Beann and his neighbors readily admit, along with a solid dose of stubborn persistence.

First off, the sheriff’s deputy who lived in the neighborhood — at the time, he served as a CSI detective and member of the SWAT team but has since retired — had been working late that night. When he drove home, the wind and the smoke made him uneasy, so he ran up the hill to check out the situation. (To protect their privacy, Beann gave everyone in the book a pseudonym.)

“That’s when I saw the glow of the fire coming over the ridge,” said the detective, known in the book as “Wayne.” “The next thing I heard was that Paradise Ridge Winery was on fire. That’s when I started pounding on doors.”

After making sure everyone on Viewpointe knew about the fire, Wayne took his family to a hotel in San Francisco. But when he found out that the retired San Francisco firefighter — known in the book as “Dave” — had refused to leave the neighborhood when the fire hit, he returned to help him.

Watching the news

Meanwhile, a young high-tech worker, known in the book as “Sebastian,” was on the first plane out of Atlanta on Monday morning after flying there the night before and watching news footage of the burned-out Miramonte neighborhood, just below his house.

“I was sure my house was gone,” he said. “I got back Monday morning and then got a rental car and drove to Santa Rosa. I just wanted to see if the house was still there.”

“Sebastian” went through a fire access point to get into his neighborhood, where there were still active fires. He was recruited to stay by the retired fireman who needed young, strong bodies to help him.

“Everywhere you looked, it was like a nuclear bomb went off. It was a surreal experience,” “Sebastian” said. “The retired fireman came out and gave me a hug. He said ‘Your back yard caught on fire, and I put it out.’ ”

In another stroke of luck, some firetrucks had also come by the neighborhood in the wee hours of Monday morning, and “Dave” talked them into helping him douse fires that were burning in the backyards of at least 10 of the Viewpointe homes.

By the time Beann and his wife showed up on Monday afternoon — they had evacuated but came back to check on their house — the firefighters were splayed across the lawns, exhausted from the fight.

Although the Beanns left that night — their dog and two cats were still at a friend’s house in Graton — they returned the next day, at Laura’s insistence, to lend a hand to the team.

“She’s tough,” Beann said of his wife. “She was the organizer, and she put the phone list together. That way the ‘outsiders’ could see what we were doing and could give help.”

Soon four others were recruited to join the patrol — “Gary,” a hardware guy who had a garage full of handy equipment; two roommates, “TJ and Eddie,” one a young college student; and a dermatologist, “Mike,” who lived on Fountainview Circle just above Viewpointe Circle.

Because there was no power, the Pointe Patrol procured keys to everyone’s houses on the street and went in and cleaned out their refrigerators. They also were able to find prescription drugs for those neighbors who had evacuated in haste.

Meanwhile, the “outsiders” were taking supply requests from the Pointe Patrol, then passing over food, water and other necessities at the police line.

Got a generator

Life became a little easier after one resident bought the patrol a generator, allowing them to keep their food cold, power floodlights for safety and charge their phones.

“The phone was our lifeline to everybody,” Beann said. “The water came back, but we couldn’t drink it and it wasn’t heated. We used it for our buckets.”

Working with a pickup truck, Beann and Mike would go out on “spotting” patrols, then would phone in the hot spots to the rest of the patrol, who would descend with buckets or hoses they could connect to spigots.

Through the week, the Pointe Patrol struggled through many challenges, from looters disguised as insurance adjusters to the “epic” night at The Boulders, which started when one pine tree surrounded by a 15-foot hot spot threatened to erupt next to one of the apartment buildings.

“We were at The Boulders for hours, seven of us, putting fires out,” Beann said. “It felt like it was going to go. Then we went home and crashed.”

Finally, after a few days, support started to arrive in the form of hundreds of fire engines — one stationed at The Boulders — and the National Guard, which eased the pressure off the Pointe Patrol volunteers as well as the local firefighters and police.

Held a party

To celebrate, the Pointe Patrol held an impromptu party, fueled by four cases of Pliny the Elder gifted to the group from the Russian River Brewing Co.

“We started cutting loose a little bit,” Beann said. “Up until that moment, we weren’t sure we were going to make it.”

About two weeks after the fire, the evacuation order for the neighborhood lifted and, the Viewpointe neighbors began to slowly trickle back. Then the yearlong process of cleanup and repairs got underway.

At that point Beann — who had also experienced the 2014 Napa earthquake when he and his wife were living in an Atlas Peak rental home — said he finally realized the true meaning of home.

“Where you belong has nothing to do with the home you own,” he wrote in the book. “It has everything to do with the people around you. Half of us were renters. We weren’t even fighting for our own properties. What we were fighting for was our community.”

“Pointe Patrol” can be ordered at earikbeann.com and amazon.com. It is also available at Copperfield’s Books in Santa Rosa.

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.

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