Nation & World

Camp fire survivors get Christmas pardons

Gov. Jerry Brown before signing the 2018-19 California budget at the Ronald Reagan State Building in Los Angeles in June of 2018. Governor Brown offered a pardon for Camp Fire survivors. (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Gov. Jerry Brown before signing the 2018-19 California budget at the Ronald Reagan State Building in Los Angeles in June of 2018. Governor Brown offered a pardon for Camp Fire survivors. (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Almost 20 years ago, Heather Steels Burnett tried to restart her life with “nothing but a criminal record.”

Today, she’s starting over again. She and her husband lost their home a month ago when the Camp fire tore through Paradise.

But that criminal record? That’s a thing of the past.

California Gov. Jerry Brown on Christmas Eve granted her a pardon for her 1999 drug conviction, a mercy that made her feel as if the state recognized how far she’s come in earning an education and working for Butte County for the past 13 years as an addiction counselor.

“It couldn’t have come at a better time. We lost everything,” Burnett said.

It also let her join her husband, Jason James Burnett, in celebrating a clean record.

Brown granted him a pardon for a long-ago drug conviction, too, over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Similar to her husband’s, Heather Burnett’s pardon reads: “Since her release from custody, she has lived an honest and upright life.”

The Burnetts are grateful for the pardons.

“We don’t have any possessions left,” Heather Burnett said. “But we have so much more. Our recovery. Our family. Our friends. Our jobs.”

She had a close call on Nov. 8 when the Camp fire consumed much of Paradise. She went back to her house to retrieve her dog and knew it was the last time she’d see the home.

It took her more than three hours to get out of town with flames burning homes on both sides of the road. She had a nearly empty gas tank the whole time.

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“The last stretch was the most harrowing through the tunnel of flames and melted windshield wipers, but I made it,” she said.

The Burnetts stayed with family in Chico for a few weeks after the fire. They’ve since bought a house. They’re unsure what to do with their property in Paradise.

“It’s been a relief to have another place to call home and lay our head,” she said.

The pardon gave her another kind of relief. She can “let that part of my life go all the way and not to reflect on that, and not have that dark cloud,” she said.

Brown announced the pardon as part of his Christmas Eve clemency actions, which included 143 pardons and 131 commutations.

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