HAIL OF FIRE
Hail of Fire: A Man and His Family Face Natural Disaster is an intimate account of the third worst wildfire in modern U.S. history, and the most destructive in the history of Texas. It is a memoir of what happened to Randy Fritz, an artist turned politician turned public policy leader, and his family during and after the Bastrop County Complex fire in September 2011. Combining a searing account of the fire as it grew to apocalyptic strength with universal themes of loss and grief, Fritz gives a first-person account of the emotional turmoil that comes with rebuilding one’s life after a calamitous event.
The wildfire itself was traumatic to those who witnessed it and suffered its immediate aftermath. But the most significant impact came in the months and years following, as families grieved, struggling to adapt to a new world and accept the destruction of an iconic forest of internationally acclaimed great natural beauty—the Lost Pines. Neighbors once close worried for each other, while others discovered new friendships that transcended the boundaries of race, class, and family lineage. Fritz struggled as his wife and daughter tried to make sense of their losses. He never imagined the impact this disaster would have on them individually and as a family, as well as the visceral toll he would pay in the journey to make sense of it all.
Hail of Fire is an unflinching story of how a man and his tight-knit family found grace after losing everything. Fritz’s hard-won insights provide inspiration to anyone on the search for what truly matters, particularly those who have undergone an unexpected and life-changing event and those who love and care for them.
HARDCOVER BOOK DETAILS
Size: 6 x 9
Published: Jun 2015
Published: Jun 2015
At least seventy thousand wildfires happen every year in America, and most regenerate healthy forests, culling underbrush, improving the soil, and unspooling the life resting inside pinecones.
Some of them shed their better natures, mutating into something dangerous enough that heavy equipment and elite firefighters must be called in. Of those, only a few turn into criminals, taking lives and destroying homes.
But in the modern era, there have been only two wildfires, both in California, more vicious and pitiless than the one that changed my life after nearly killing me.
With the tag-team help of a malicious sun that baked Central Texas dry for months and a tropical storm that uncoiled from the Gulf of Mexico with a hateful wind instead of rain, the fire that ravaged Bastrop County—my home for more than thirty years—on a holiday weekend in 2011 left behind a scorched and violated landscape shaped like a giant teardrop.
The fire started in two separate locations as people were returning home from church or finishing their lunches. In each case, a dead tree on private property blew into a power line, and the resulting sparks lit the bounty of fuel on the ground—a desiccated carpet of pine needles and twigs that were like gasoline vapor waiting for a match.
The wind curling off Tropical Storm Lee’s dry side energized the embryonic flames. In short order, as they skittered along the ground, vaulted from tree to tree, and sprinted from house to house, the fires began shooting off flaming pieces of bark or wood, like the sparks of a campfire, except the embers weren’t innocent or nostalgic.
As these fiery hailstones prepped the drought-stricken forest for the arrival of each fire, yet another one began five miles southwest of the first two before the event was an hour old. By the time the conflagration crossed Highway 71—one of the major arterials connecting two of the nation’s largest cities— they had merged into a colossus, and a thousand homes were burning or about to be.
The teardrop-shaped fire destroyed more homes, and upended more lives, than any other fire in Texas history. It reached a level of intensity that fire experts have scientifically confirmed only a handful of times before.
HALL WAYS REVIEW: In Hail of Fire, Randy Fritz shares with readers the profound emotional impact of the 2011 forest fires that devastated Bastrop County, Texas. By the time the fires had swept through nearly fifty-five square miles, over seventeen hundred families had lost their homes, including author Randy Fritz.
I expected the family's escape and recovery from the fire to be more central to the story, but it was actually pretty anticlimactic -- they were told to evacuate and they did it, and the close call that the author had in returning to gather some belongings was only realized much later in the book. Also, where I expected the family to go through real, physical hardship at being homeless and without any possessions, they were immeasurably blessed and minimally inconvenienced. Fritz never downplays their material and physical blessings; rather, he mourns the spiritual losses of an entire ecosystem - and HIS beloved pine trees.
Fritz tells his story two ways: he begins by leading up to the fires, but he makes frequent digressions into the past, telling stories about his early days in Bastrop County. There is a great deal of dialogue, and his side stories are interesting and contribute to readers better understanding Fritz and his values -- and certainly underscored his ties to the area. Some of these stories added clarity to the depth of Fritz's losses, but others were confusing and seemed like nothing more than name dropping and borderline bragging. Given that the book is a memoir, it is certainly allowed but it added little for me and was more a distraction from the core story.
Fritz is a gifted writer whose use of figurative language really enriches his descriptions. The book was well-edited (very few typos) and the writing often lyrical. His love of the land and the beautiful trees covering it is obvious and the despair he feels in losing it is heart breaking to read. Through Fritz's narrative, readers will feel Fritz's emotional turmoil and self-destructive behavior and applaud him for getting help when he couldn't manage the burden of grief and guilt on his own. The real meat of Hail of Fire is Fritz's struggle to regain control of his emotional well-being and make some measure of peace with his former friend, fire. When he finally realizes that "grief and loss and regret and anger and guilt cannot be washed away through force of will or stoical silence," the healing begins.
And healing is what this book is really about: both Fritz's self-healing and the healing of nature. At the end of the book, Fritz synthesizes what he learned by going through the ordeal, and he gives very practical advice for anyone who lives in an area prone to natural disaster or anyone who survives a traumatic event. He laments that no one told him early on that what he was feeling was normal, and Fritz clearly wants to save others from the same distress he endured. Hail of Fire is unique and provides an exceptionally candid look at loss, exposing unexpected angles to post-disaster recovery.
Praises for this book from Kirkus Review, Booklist, Austin American-Statesman, Texas Monthly, and more can be found on the publisher's website.
Randy Fritz is the former chief operating officer of the Texas Department of State Health Services, the state’s public and mental health agency. He helped coordinate the state’s response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and led the team that implemented the Children’s Health Insurance Program in Texas. Fritz lives in Bastrop, Texas, with his wife, Holly, and their youngest daughter, Miranda.
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