Malibu residents stay up all night to save neighborhood from fires

Not enough firefighters to save every home

By OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN
Robert Spangle via CNN

Robert Spangle didn't shower for five days. He barely slept. He was on a mission to make sure his Malibu hometown didn't burn to the ground

(CNN) - Robert Spangle didn't shower for five days. He barely slept. He was on a mission to make sure his Malibu hometown didn't burn to the ground.

"I would set my alarm to go off every 30 minutes," Spangle said. "I would sleep for 30 minutes, have the alarm go off, scan for 15 minutes and then go back to sleep. That was our routine for five days."

Day in and day out, the 29-year-old Marine sat perched on top of Malibu's scenic Point Dume, spotting hotspots and coordinating resources quickly to make sure those flare ups didn't turn into anything worse.

"As a Marine, I was in the infantry and I was a reconnaissance Marine so some of those skill sets came into play in this. Detailed observation. Relating that information to very specific positions on maps," Spangle said.

"In the reconnaissance community, five or six days a week sleeping on the ground with no electricity, no comfort, no conversation with very little food and water in really harsh conditions is a good day, the medium."

There was something nearly every night that either caught fire or flared up again, even days after the worst of the Woolsey Fire passed through, Spangle said. To him, it was an important reminder.

"Every night, it was tempting to go down and sleep in a proper bed, but the fear of waking up and being surrounded by flames or you know, someone's house going up which could have been prevented by vigilance kept all of us from that."

'Point Dume Bombers' at work

In all of this, Spangle was merely the coordinator, communicating by walkie-talkie with a group of other Malibu natives.

"I'd drawn a map of the surrounding area, and when I saw a flare up with my binoculars, I would tell them where approximately it was. They would go put it out," he said.

The "they" is a group of hometown guys dubbed "The Point Dume Bombers," named after the notorious surf team that used to represent that community decades ago. All of them had grown up hearing stories about "The Bombers," and now they were the ones keeping the community afloat.

"The firefighter presence is not big enough here in Malibu to save everybody's home, so you stay and you fight for yours," said Sam McGee, one of the Point Dume Bombers. "When the time came, there was no hesitation. We didn't know whether or not we were going to succeed but we knew ... we were going to try."

The 27-year-old carpenter estimates the crew put out at least 100 hotspots over five days. Out of 144 hours, he said, they slept nine.

"I'm not saying that we completely saved all of these homes. Some had luck on their side, who knows what would have happened if we weren't here," McGee said. "What I do know is that there weren't any other structure fires aside from the first bad night."

Every day, they grew in numbers and became more organized. At one point, they were working two or three different firefighting efforts at the same time. Then, after five days of physical exhaustion and no sleep, the team felt the job was complete.

"For the first time in a very long time in my life, feeling that safety was this incredible luxury," Spangle said.

'Malibu is not all Miley Cyrus and Caitlyn Jenner'

It's oftentimes the big celebrity names that people associate with the world famous Malibu, but homeowners there say it is so much more.

Many working-class residents have been in the community for decades, before it became a destination for the rich and famous, and the potential for destruction to their properties could mean they would never be able to return.

It's part of what motivated McGee and Point Dume Bombers to fight for their own.

"Malibu is not all Miley Cyrus and Caitlyn Jenner," McGee said. "If we lose this house, that's all we have."

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