Special Sections : West Fire

Wednesday, Mar 09 2011 04:37 PM

Community unites to rebuild home for Old West Ranch resident

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Bruce Burson stands on the hill above his newly donated mobile home and the temporary RV, provided by the Tehachapi Salvation Army, where he and his family have been living since the July 27 Old West Ranch Fire destroyed his existing home.

On Feb. 24, workers installed seismic piers under the double-wide mobile home that Rimer Homes of Bakersfield had donated to Bruce Burson of Old West Ranch.

The piers were the last major detail Burson needed to secure a permit from Kern County so he could occupy the home.

Burson has a new home because his neighbors and strangers have big hearts and willing hands.

It’s the story of a community pulling together to help Burson, 55, who was burned out in the July 27, 2010 Old West Ranch fire that consumed 1,658 acres of timbered mountainside. The mountain, populated sparsely  by humans, had not burned in more than 100 years, and the well-fed fire was ferocious, fast and hot.

Burson already had been pummeled  by nature, which took his wife Cathy — who had suffered for two years with breast cancer — from him four months before the devastating fire swept across his 15 acres.

They had lived there since 1992 (“She’s the one who found the hill,” Burson said.)

The necessity of caring for his ailing wife and special-needs son cost him employment as a heavy equipment operator.

Now Burson has a two-bedroom, two-bath home for himself, for his 37-year-old blind, autistic son David and any of his three other adult children who might need digs.

Since losing his home to the July 27 fire, Burson, David, daughters Acacia and Alandis and Taser the terrier have lived temporarily in an RV provided by the Salvation Army Tehachapi Center. 

An older daughter, Janelle, 36, comes to visit with her two children.

Help also came in the form of small items in addition to the mobile home from owner Colins Rimer and sales manager Delores Fischer of Rimer Homes.

Others gave time and labor. Burson and neighbor Randy Robey (whose house just a few hundred yards from Burson’s escaped the fire) moved the trailer sections from outside the Old West Ranch gate to Burson’s property with the loan of Dave Hopkins’s loader.

Jorge Madrigal, owner of J & L Landscaping, worked like a whirlwind for three days fixing cracked ceilings and installing drywall. Madrigal’s wife Liz works part-time for the Salvation Army. Madrigal didn’t know Burson before he threw himself into fixing the mobile home.

“I don’t have much for words,” Madrigal said as he snapped some chalk lines on the ceiling. “I like to help.”

Scott Roberts worked on the pipe at the tank and well.

Carol Davis of Bakersfield, Burson said, “brought a stack of towels, dishes and utensils.”

“No gift was too small,” said Teresa Wagner, a certified adaptive PE instructor for the Tehachapi Unified School District, who was instrumental in coordinating the assistance for Burson and other fire victims.

“They were my neighbors,” Wagner said. “I needed to step in to help my neighbors who lost their home.”

Burson continues to work on his home, counting his blessings.

“I’m deeply grateful to everyone that’s given out of the kindness of their hearts,” Burson said. “If there was no help, I’d probably be living in a tent. I never imagined people would help this much.”

Wagner wants to locate one more item for Burson.

Burson’s son David is limited in his activities, Wagner said, and one thing he loves to do is ride around the property on a quad, his arms wrapped around his dad.

“Their quad burned in the fire,” Wagner said. “I’m trying to find another one.”

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