"It’s been really therapeutic and cathartic to get back out there and make myself useful,” firefighter Geoffrey Keller said

By Rachel DeSantis
August 27, 2020 01:04 PM
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CZU Lightning Fire burns in Boulder Creek
Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty

Firefighters in California have been working non-stop to get a series of wildfires under control over the last week — but for some, the blazes have hit devastatingly close to home.

As the CZU Lightning Fire continues to tear through Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties, it has destroyed the homes of a handful of firefighters who have been working day in and day out to quell those very flames.

Firefighters David Serna and Geoffrey Keller of Davenport and Darrell Sales of Boulder Creek have all watched their houses burn to the ground, only to turn right back around get back to work fighting the flames, the Mercury News reported.

“When you deal with it from the other side, there’s always a certain amount of empathy you have for people who have lost everything,” Serna, a 30-year veteran who currently works for the Presidio of Monterey Fire Department, told the outlet. “But that amplifies when you now understand — when you lose everything and feel what they were feeling and go through what you saw others go through.”

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He and his wife Gina “lost everything they owned” when the flames encroached upon his cabin in the Santa Cruz Mountains on Aug. 19, according to a GoFundMe and the Mercury News.

So, too, did CalFire firefighter Geoffrey Keller, who also reportedly lost one of his neighbors, 73-year-old Tad Jones, to the blaze.

Keller and his wife Allegra live in a remote area, where there’s just one way in and one way out, and saw on Aug. 18 that the flames were just half a mile from their driveway just before they evacuated.

CZU Lightning Fire burns in Boulder Creek
Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty

Despite losing everything, Keller was back to work just two days later, which he said helped in his grieving process, the News reported.

“It’s been really therapeutic and cathartic to get back out there and make myself useful,” he said. “We’ve been able to save a lot of houses. Almost every person we talk to has tears in their eyes, and then soon we’re all crying together.”

Meanwhile, in nearby Boulder Creek, San Jose Fire Department firefighter Darrell Sales also felt compelled to get back to work after losing the home he bought just three months ago.

Fire damage in Boulder Creek
Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty

“I think overall that is the firefighter’s mentality – to get back in the game,” he told the Mercury News. “If there’s anything that would make me feel better at this point, it’s knowing that I made sure to help someone else or protect someone else’s property."

Sales, who has worked as a firefighter for 11 years, said he knew of at least three other firefighters in his neighborhood who also lost their homes.

“The good thing about fires is there’s no malice behind it. It is what it is,” he said. “We’re going to take it a day at a time, but we’ll definitely rebuild.”

A CalFire forester in Santa Cruz
Karl Mondon/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty

Three separate GoFundMes for each of the men have so far raised more than $130,000 total.

The CZU Lightning Fire, named because it was caused by lightning, has been burning since Aug. 16, and remains just 21 percent contained after engulfing more than 81,000 acres, according to CalFire.

At least 590 structures have been destroyed.