Local author Robert Kerbeck appears to have a possible bestseller on his hands with his first book, “Malibu Burning.” The book was recently released, just in time for the first anniversary of the devastating Woolsey Fire, and tells the fire experiences of many Malibu residents and officials. The book, described as a combination of memoir, investigative journalism and narrative, contains 24 chapters.
“Every chapter is told from a different perspective, each one telling and showing the human cost of the fire from different points of view,” Kerbeck recently told The Malibu Times. “It covers the fire from every angle.”
Kerbeck is currently on his first book tour, making the rounds to TV and radio interviews, book signings and private events—hoping to get the word out on what he’s learned about Woolsey before the next major fire strikes.
He writes about how he, his wife Gardia and son Davis managed to defend and save their own Malibu home from the fire with water from garden hoses and Phos-Chek flame retardant. He chronicled the family’s fire fight in the book’s prologue, “The Accidental Firefighters,” which starts off saying, “Few things in this world will forever change you like the terror of thinking you’re about to be burned alive in front of your kid.”
Kerbeck interviewed more than 200 people for the book.
“I interviewed students who lost the only bedroom they’d ever had, Malibu locals who saved entire neighborhoods by themselves, people who rescued thousands of animals, as well as the leaders of the agencies that failed so many citizens during the fire,” the author described.
The book includes interviews with Malibu residents who evacuated from the fire as well as those who did not evacuate. In addition, Kerbeck talked to public officials—LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, the Deputy Fire Chief and Malibu City Council members.
Kerbeck noted that the New York Times recently ran an article about the “Point Dume Bombers”—the group of young men who banded together on Point Dume after the fire to put out fires and bring in supplies. He also wrote about them in the book, in the chapter “Point Dume Relief Center,” detailing the efforts of the Bombers, the women who ran the relief center and how the relief center came to be the de facto disaster relief center for the city.
The book includes research on the fire’s ignition point near the Santa Susana Field Lab in Simi Valley—the site of a secret nuclear meltdown in 1959. Kerbeck wrote that the site is still contaminated with radioactive materials.
“I interviewed scientists who believe it is likely that some of these radioactive materials were blown off the site in the burned vegetation during the fire, creating another layer to the tragedy,” he wrote. Kerbeck will re-explore the issue in an upcoming article in Los Angeles Magazine.
On a lighter note, Kerbeck’s book also includes interviews with Malibu celebrities about their fire experiences—Bob Dylan, Sean Penn, Julia Roberts and Nick Nolte, just to name a few.
The idea for the book came when Kerbeck was asked by the New York Times to write an essay about the fire, which he ended up submitting to the LA Times as an op-ed titled “My Malibu house made it through the fire. I nearly didn’t.”
While “Malibu Burning” is Robert Kerbeck’s first book, he’s actually been writing for some time, with short stories, novellas, essays, screenplays and plays to his credit. Kerbeck, a Philadelphia native, moved to LA in the 90s, where he racked up dozens of acting credits on some of TVs most popular shows, like “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” “Chicago Hope” and “Melrose Place.” In 1998, he moved to Malibu.
His next local book signing will be on Saturday, Nov. 16, at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in the Calabasas Commons in Calabasas, from 2-4 p.m. Visit robertkerbeck.com for more info.