Graphic Reaction: A Fire Story by Brian Fies

Early morning on Monday, October 9, 2017, wildfires burned through Northern California, resulting in 44 fatalities. In addition, 6,200 homes and 8,900 structures were destroyed. Author Brian Fies’s firsthand account of this tragic event is an honest, unflinching depiction of his personal experiences, including losing his house and every possession he and his wife had that didn’t fit into the back of their car. In the days that followed, as the fires continued to burn through the area, Brian hastily pulled together A Fire Story and posted it online—it immediately went viral. He is now expanding his original webcomic to include environmental insight and the fire stories of his neighbors and others in his community. A Fire Story is an honest account of the wildfires that left homes destroyed, families broken, and a community determined to rebuild.

Wow. If you’re looking for a powerful graphic novel to read, this is the one.

The 2017 fires in Northern California were absolutely devastating. I live in San Francisco, and while the fires themselves never came close to our city, the air was full of smoke for weeks — schools ending up closing, people were warned to stay inside and to wear masks while outside, and everyone had headaches and coughs from the lousy air quality. But of course, this is nothing compared to the suffering of those who perished as well as the thousands of people who lost their homes.

Author Brian Fies lived through it. A Fire Story is his memoir of the fire, starting with him and his wife waking up to red skies and the smell of smoke, grabbing a few items on their way out the door, and evacuating along with all of their neighbors — then returning the next morning to find that the entire neighborhood was just gone.

The author initially drew/wrote some of these pages in the moment, using sharpies and a pad of paper, to capture and process the experience as it unfolded. From the book’s notes, I understand that these images were initially shared online and went viral. He’s now expanded from the initial drawings to convey a more encompassing picture of what he and others went through. Sprinkled throughout are the “fire stories” of others who lost their homes, how they dealt with their losses, and how they’re still dealing with rebuilding and recovering. This is incredible stuff, truly.

Brian Fies shares his own experiences with candor and grace, and even some humor, as well as conveying the bigger picture of the reasons for the calamity and the scope of the loss — and manages to keep a focus on the human impact that can be lost when dealing with a disaster of this magnitude. We may hear about thousands of people losing their homes, but as the author points out in this excellent book, each of those thousands has a unique, individual story to tell.

For a taste of the book, check out:

From: A Santa Rosa Cartoonist’s ‘Fire Story’ Comes to Life
Kelly Whalen and Farrin Abbott, Producers for KQED Arts
Video courtesy KQED Arts


The author’s original postings:


The details:

Title: A Fire Story
Author: Brian Fies
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Publication date: March 5, 2019
Length: 160 pages
Genre: Graphic novel
Source: Library