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By Norris Burkes Aug 15 2021

I know readers worry about my wife, Becky, and me living so close to the fires here in Northern California. Hopefully, they do more than worry – they pray – because the flashing strobe on my iPhone emergency notification is blinding!

“This is the County Sheriff’s office issuing an evacuation ORDER for a fast-moving wildfire affecting the following zones: NCO-E050, NCO-E102….”

The home Becky and I share nestles snuggly in the foothills, but I have no clue what our assigned zone is.

Smoke swirls on the horizon, so I jump on the Internet, searching furiously for our zone. At last, good news. And bad. I can hardly tell the difference.

The fire is five miles away, so we needn’t evacuate. But the fire is only five miles away!

Departure feels imminent. I rush down the garage stairs to retrieve suitcases.

The long-timers in this gold country tell me to always keep a go-bag packed. Ours isn’t exactly packed.

We are doing that now.

So, what goes in the bag after toiletries and a few blue jeans? Surely my laptop used for writing my columns. 

I walk circles around Becky, searching for clues while she loads the family photo albums she’s artistically compiled over recent decades.

I return to the garage for more suitcases but pause to check the gas level in our car.  

Local authorities advise maintaining a full tank during fire season. I’m caught with a fourth of a tank.

I return upstairs where Becky is loading some vintage toys from her childhood, to share with our newest grandson.

I grab my military files and tax records and throw in iPads for good measure.

Becky focuses on personal items, and I grab more mechanical things. She wants priceless representations of the life we’ve lived; I’m morbidly attracted to the replaceable.

My greedy arms fill, like a kid whose overloaded hand is stuck in the candy jar. If I withdraw my hand, I’ll have to let some stuff go.

Which of us is the better packer?

I recall reading about Jesus visiting with a man who felt his life was well packed. The man claimed he’d kept the laws of his religion and had done all the right things since childhood. But he still sensed something lacking at his spiritual center, so he asked Jesus how to become whole.

Jesus suggested he might – “go and sell all your stuff and give the proceeds to the poor and your treasure will be in heaven.”

The man leaves sorrowfully because he can’t give up his stuff – even if it means saving his soul.

How can I make a similar decision to give up my stuff in the face of this fire?

Becky reaches for a painting on our wall, one she commissioned from a Honduran artist. It’s a quiet seaside landscape with a rowboat in the bay. Across the bottom, the artist inscribed folk-song lyrics she had requested:

“The river is wide, we both shall row, my Love and I.”

I load the painting in the car, Becky nearby, and I reach for her hand – the same one I first took 41 years ago.

“No worries,” I say, as the tears well. “We have each other. I think we have everything we need.”


Gratefully, Becky and I never had to evacuate, but many others lost everything in the fire.  

You can help victims of the River Fire. Send checks payable to: Nevada County Relief Fund c/o SNMH Foundation, P.O. Box 1810 Grass Valley, CA  95945. Email

Help fire victims statewide with donations to “Disaster Relief Ministry,” California Southern Baptist Convention, 678 East Shaw Ave., Fresno, CA 93710.

Fire survivors can seek help at

Read past columns at Contact Norris at or 10556 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or voicemail (843) 608-9715.