Bill Olive / Chronicle
South East Church of Christ Minister Michael Harbour speaks about the life of church member HFD Capt. Gary Burke, pictured with his two daughters Hailey (left) and Hannah, in an image projected over the pulpit at his church.
Grady Burke was a warrior who died in a “senseless fire” that left a wife and three children without a husband and father, the minister at the Houston firefighter’s church said Sunday.
“It was an abandoned home used to deal crack cocaine that somebody decided to set on fire, knowing firefighters would come,” said Michael Harbour, preaching minister for Southeast Church of Christ in Friendswood during the early Sunday service Burke and his family regularly attended.
“It was not a house worth saving. I saw it. I stood up close to it.”
Late Saturday afternoon, Harbour and Burke’s wife, Cindy, visited the scene where the 39-year-old Houston Fire Department captain died. Arson investigators let Burke’s wife, who worked in the church’s nursery, take ashes from the rubble.
“She wanted to see where he fell,” Harbour said.
During an hour-long service Sunday, Harbour assured those gathered that Burke’s death was quick. The 12-year department veteran was the fifth Houston firefighter in five years to die on duty. He worked for Station 46.
“It was a dangerous fire and Grady took the lead. He had the nozzle. The house flashed and the roof fell and he wasn’t able to get out,” Harbour said of the blaze in the Sunnyside neighborhood. “It was very fast.”
A memorial service for Burke is scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday at Grace Community Church, 14505 Gulf Freeway.
Parishioners on Sunday remembered a man who was active in the church and beyond.
He always took the role of the singing cowboy in the puppet ministry, was the ring leader for the church family campout and had a particular knack for fixing broken garage door openers.
A lifelong resident of the area, he graduated from South Houston High School in 1984 and attended College of the Mainland in Texas City.
“A week ago Friday he was in my garage,” Barbour said. When asked who else had their garage door opener fixed by Burke, about five people raised their hands.
Mark Mayfield, a friend and fellow Houston firefighter who co-taught the class, had heard over the scanner early Saturday morning that Burke was killed and huddled together to pray with other firefighters after the service.
Burke was awarded two medals of valor during his career.
“He was a well-respected firefighter,” Mayfield said. “That’s why he got killed. He wouldn’t turn around.”