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Every year people watch in shock as homes are destroyed and communities devastated by natural disasters. As the media arrives, the information that is reported is mainly statistical. The horror of living through and recovering from the experience is rarely told because almost no one has the emotional strength to speak out while the smoke is still in the air or the floodwaters are still receding. The stories of a disaster’s most important effectswhich unfold invisibly for months and sometimes yearsare never told. That is, until now.
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 about what happened to Randy Fritz, an artist turned politician turned public policy leader, and his family during and after, combining a searing account of the fire as it grew to apocalyptic strength with universal themes of loss, grief, and the rebuilding of 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 that followed.
Randy Fritz is an independent consultant specializing in technical writing for government programs. Between 2004 and 2007 he was chief operating officer of the Texas Department of State Health Services, responsible for 12,000 employees, most of whom worked in the state mental health system. He helped coordinate the state’s public health response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
In 2000 Fritz led the team that implemented the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which became one of the top three Texas-specific issues in the Bush-Gore presidential race. The team built a new program that covered almost 100,000 children in the first six months.
At the time of the fire Fritz was the chief elected official in the county he lived in. He is also a potter. In a strange footnote, the fire consumed all of his work, save for one large raku pot.