Expensive gun collection burned on Kings Canyon | NevadaAppeal.com

Expensive gun collection burned on Kings Canyon

by F.T. Norton
Rick Gunn/Nevada Appeal The remains of a gun collection with an estimated cost of more than $250,000 that burned at the home of Bill Burnaugh during the Waterfall fire.

Twenty-seven years. To hear Bill Burnaugh say that number, you can almost appreciate what it means. For 27 years, Burnaugh, 56, carved out his niche in Carson City, living in the little house he rented that grew to be the big house he owned at 4091 Kings Canyon Road.

On July 14, the businessman got a phone call about 6 a.m. telling him there was a fire in brush above Kings Canyon. Armed only with a cup of coffee, he sat on his roof and watched as a helicopter dropped water on the flames and a plane attacked with retardant.

But the fire grew bigger, he said. “Then the cops showed up and said there was an evacuation.”

Over the years, Burnaugh had been told to evacuate for various fires. Some 15 years ago, as C Hill burned, friends came to help him save his place. But there was no need, the fire didn’t reach him.

On this day, however, deputies were insistent. So Burnaugh did a couple of things just in case. He moved his Thunderbird into a pasture, put two vintage Harley-Davidsons in a safer location and filled his Jacuzzi bathtub with water because it sat over his fireproof room.

In the room was the fireproof safe where he kept his collection of 100 antique Winchester rifles and other collectibles worth perhaps $250,000.

He didn’t take any extra clothing or paperwork or pictures or his pet cockatoo that recited dialogue from the movie “Star Wars.” There was no need, he thought. This wasn’t the first wildland fire he’d been through and it wouldn’t be the last. Plus, he reasoned, he’d learned a long time ago about defensible space. There was 50 feet of grass around his palatial home and high-water content plants against it.

Burnaugh locked his front door and left for work about 8 a.m. He’d check on things when he came home for dinner.

Shortly after 1 p.m., with the help of afternoon winds and years of drought, the 300-acre blaze turned into an all-consuming inferno. Within moments, it raced down the canyon chasing out firefighters and residents.

A garage on Burnaugh s property remains untouched. The Thunderbird survived, as did the Harleys. Water still drifts down a waterfall he built into a large pond in the back yard.

“Because of my diligence over the years preparing for this type of episode, I thought I was going to be fine,” he said Thursday in his office at Capitol City Loans. “My whole history was in that house. Everything. That was my spot on the planet.”

All of his precautions failed, he admits. The defensible space was no defense. The fireproof room fell like the rest of the house. His nest egg went with it.

“I’m done collecting,” he said. “I don’t know how I’d protect it.”

In retrospect, Burnaugh wishes he’d stayed and tried to fight the fire, but he knows by looking at what’s left it would have been futile. He has another wish too.

“I wish I’d would have taken the bird.”

Now, he sleeps at a friend’s house – if you can call it sleep, he admits. But he has more than he had when he came to Carson City as a 21-year-old who grew up an orphan.

He has resolve and he has friends.

“In my life I’ve had nothing, and this is more than nothing,” he said. “So I’m OK. It’s not a matter of who did what wrong, or who started the fire. I have to focus all my energy on rebuilding. I just have to rebuild.”

Contact F.T. Norton at ftnorton@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1213.