This is a historical fire;
it hasn't happened in over 100 years

A lightning storm ignited the CZU Lightning Complex fire—devastating more than 86,500 acres and 925 family homes like the one belonging to Kenneth and Georgina Burgess.

Faith Forged
in the Flames

Nearly 80 years of memories and collectibles are cloaked in a blanket of ash.

A lifetime of photos and priceless moments were destroyed in minutes after a lightning storm ignited the CZU Lightning Complex fire—devastating more than 86,500 acres and 925 family homes like the one belonging to Kenneth and Georgina Burgess.

The couple, married for 57 years, moved to California in 1980 after Kenneth's long career in the British Army. Now, with their three children all grown with families of their own, it was the perfect time to settle into their new “forever” home in the secluded hills of the redwood forest.

We finally got to move in and everything was like new… It was going to be lovely
Georgina Burgess

After spending two years to perfectly renovate and remodel the home, Kenneth and Georgina had only lived there a matter of weeks before the blaze began. “We finally got to move in and everything was like new—all the carpets, fittings, gas and electric had been done and a brand-new kitchen. It was going to be lovely,” Georgina said.

CZU Lightning
Complex Fire

Started:
August 16, 2020 at 6:41 AM
Contained:
September 22, 2020 at 7:53 PM
The Fire Destroyed:
  • 86,509Acres
  • 1,490Total
    Structures
  • 925Single-Family
    Homes

The kitchen cabinets had been perfectly designed around a large window that brought the outdoors in while Georgina baked. Antiques lined the walls of the garage workshop that Kenneth designed to house his collectibles and focus on his artwork — a variety of etchings and paintings.

Now, it was all unrecognizable. “We moved in lots of things, got them all in place, and now it's all on the ground,” Kenneth said.

They were told to evacuate twice — both times they fully believed they would return to their new home within days. “We didn't think it would happen; we didn't think anything would happen,” Kenneth said.

The fire moved quickly,
consuming the surrounding neighborhoods.

“The fuel load that was out there was extreme, was very dense, and the fire took advantage of the terrain and the fuel loads and the weather conditions that allowed it to do what it did,” said Mark Bingham, Fire Chief of the Boulder Creek Volunteer Fire Department.

“This is a historical fire; it hasn't happened in over 100 years. We've lost several hundred homes.”

You couldn’t come back and look at anything … and you were told you can’t find out anything.
Georgina Burgess

As the couple stayed with family nearby, their worst nightmares became a harsh reality as they received word their home had succumbed to the flames. However, it would be weeks before they would see the damage for themselves.

“You couldn't come back and look at anything,” Georgina said. “Nobody explained what houses were burnt down or where — they just put fire trucks and police cars blocked off the roads and you were told you can’t find out anything.”

They were struck with awe and horror as they finally returned home to find nothing that appeared salvageable from the ashes. “We were amazed, totally shocked,” Kenneth said.

It was all gone,
and they were left with only the memories.

Beauty
from Ashes

Kenneth's whole demeanor was downcast, weighed down with decades of lost collectibles and the knowledge that nothing would ever be the same. He stood staring at the ashes, propped up by a wooden cane.

The couple knew that they couldn’t physically or emotionally endure the burden of scouring the ashes for any surviving memories. That’s when they turned to the willing and able hands of a dozen Samaritan’s Purse volunteers.

An abundance of orange shirts greeted Kenneth and Georgina, ready to comb through what remained of their home to salvage any personal belongings that survived the flames. Team lead Marie Chichester from Huntington Beach, California began the day in prayer and asked the couple which areas of their home would have contained the items they treasured most.

More than a dozen volunteers donned their personal protective equipment— including a Tyvek suit and an N95 mask— and began searching for those tangible memories.

They're not going to find anything.
There's nothing to save.

“They're not going to find anything,” Kenneth said as he gazed at where his home once stood. “There's nothing to save.”

But, within minutes, a volunteer discovered a long piece of metal, gently curved at the end from intense heat. As he presented it to Kenneth, he began to weep — immediately recognizing it as a British Army sword from 1880, one of his most precious belongings that reminded him of his time in the service and his son's current role as a colonel.

00:00

His countenance began to change from one of sadness, to one filled with hope. Samaritan's Purse volunteers continued to recover bins full of priceless belongings from the ashes and present them to Kenneth and Georgina. They salvaged infantry badges, Kenneth's camera and coin collections, ceramics handcrafted by their son, and Georgina's engagement ring. With each finding, Kenneth would chuckle and break into a huge smile.

I think it's been a very warming situation; everyone's been very kind. We felt more desolate when it was just us two, looking at it thinking ‘oh my God, this is awful.’ But somehow having a group of people working with you, they took the edge out of it all.
Georgina Burgess

“We found at least 200 metal badges and infantry things from England,” said Marie. “He could tell us the story for every single one of them he collected and we actually found some pretty valuable jewelry for his wife. You could tell they didn't care about the value; it was always the story.”

As the day went on, nearly every single volunteer took a turn sitting next to Kenneth and Georgina to hear the stories associated with each found item. The couple laughed and chatted with the team as they included them in their personal memories. “They blessed me in the way they received things we found. I'm being more blessed than we are blessing these people,” Marie said.

But Kenneth and Georgina felt abundantly blessed in return. The retrieval of their items and kindness of Samaritan's Purse volunteers gave them hope and the reassurance that they are not alone or forgotten.

“I think it's been a very warming situation; everyone's been very kind,” Georgina said. “We felt more desolate when it was just us two, looking at it thinking ‘ oh my God, this is awful.’ But somehow having a group of people working with you, they took the edge out of it all.”

‘My Burden
is Light’

I praise God for the Samaritan's Purse volunteers that made Jesus a reality for that couple in the midst of their situation.
Michael Glassey
Chaplain

Even more than the physical aid, the couple was impacted by the presence and encouragement of Samaritan's Purse volunteers and Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Rapid Response Team chaplains.

Once religious, they hadn't attended church in several decades. However, it was evident that the Holy Spirit was working in their hearts as Samaritan's Purse volunteers worked on their home. “They've sort of lightened everything, I think,” Kenneth said. “We don't feel so lost.”

Chaplain Michael Glassey explained that the same sense of weightlessness could be found in giving their lives to the Lord, surrendering their burdens to Him. He presented Kenneth and Georgina with a Bible signed by each Samaritan's Purse volunteer that helped recover their belongings — reading aloud each message of Scripture or encouragement.

Then, he shared with them the hope of the Gospel and the message of John 3:16. As Michael prayed, tears began to stream down Kenneth's cheeks. “He was bringing a lot of truth to me.”

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
John 3:16

Kenneth and Georgina both made a first-time decision to give their hearts to the Lord, overwhelmed by His love expressed through Samaritan's Purse volunteers that now surrounded them.

“I praise God for the Samaritan's Purse volunteers that made Jesus a reality for that couple in the midst of their situation,” Michael said. “For us to come alongside and share with them how much Jesus loves them: amazing.”

This fall, Samaritan's Purse volunteers helped more than 620 families in California and Oregon salvage personal belongings from the ashes of their homes after West Coast wildfires caused widespread devastation. We praise God that more than 100 individuals made first-time decisions for Christ across our two response locations. And, as we continue to respond to disasters around the world, we are grateful for the opportunity to provide physical relief and spiritual encouragement to families like Kenneth and Georgina.

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28–30
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