Matt Mixon walked around the mall in a daze this week, unsure how to piece his world back together.
It's a world that used to include a historic 1830s Clarkesville home and a number of family heirlooms.
Now, three chimneys and a set of golf clubs are all that's left after lightning reduced his home to a smoldering pile of charred pine.
"Right now I don't want to replace anything," Mixon said as he reflected on the May 26 fire that destroyed his home. "I want to go home to what I had, but it's just not there."
Mixon, his wife and two children, ages 11 and 13, now live in a barn on their property as they figure out their next steps.
"My first reaction was disbelief," said Mixon, who has worked for State Farm Insurance for 21 years. "I know what lightning can do; I know what fire can do. But a complete and total loss when we're basically a block and a half from the fire department — I just didn't believe it."
Habersham County tax records show the Mixon family purchased the 5,000-square-foot Jefferson Street home for $850,000 in 2006.
Before the Mixons moved in, they completed nine months of renovations to modernize the house. That included updating the kitchen, electrical wiring, plumbing and air conditioning. They also built a pool, pool house, garage and a 1,000-square-foot addition to the main house.
Despite the changes, the house maintained many original features, including hand-blown windows.
The home was built in the 1830s by architect Jarvis Van Buren, a relative of President Martin Van Buren.
Before moving to Clarkesville, Jarvis Van Buren was noted for his role in assembling the first railroad locomotive in New York, according to the Southern Garden History Society.
He eventually relocated to the South, where he moved to the forefront of the construction movement. Van Buren is credited with constructing many Clarkesville homes and churches, including Grace Episcopal Church, according to the garden society.
In the many years following its construction, the Jefferson Street home belonged to many prominent Clarkesville residents, including Walter B. Hill, a founder of the Georgia State Bar Association and former president of the University of Georgia.
According to Mixon, Hill called the house "Forest of Arden" after a Shakespeare play.
"It was just a huge refuge within the city limits of Clarkesville," Mixon said, describing how the property's trees shielded it from city
But a house with close to two centuries of history proved no match for Mother Nature.
Mixon said his family was on vacation in Cancun, Mexico, when, fire investigators said, 19 lightning strikes hit their property within a two-hour window.
One of those strikes hit a 100-year-old poplar tree near the house.
"We're thinking it ran into the house somehow, smoldered in the attic for a while, and once it got air, the heart pine ceiling, floor and everything just collapsed," Mixon said.
The home was protected by security and sprinkler systems, but the electric surge prevented any warnings from getting to the firefighters.
Mixon said investigators are unsure if the sprinklers went off, but either way, they were no match for the inferno.
The Clarkesville fire department responded with 50 emergency personnel only minutes after a passer-by reported the blaze, but only the garage and pool house were salvageable, Clarkesville Fire Chief Jerry Palmer said.
"If we would have been there, I don't know if we would have made it out," Mixon said.
The family rushed home the next evening to begin sifting through the ashes for whatever personal items they could recover.
"It might be a total waste of time but I think it may help with the healing process," Mixon said.
The family has begun replacing what they can, but Mixon said it's more difficult than he imagined.
After walking around the mall for three days, he said he could only bring himself to buy one piece of clothing.
In the meantime, the Mixon family has been comforted by letters and prayers from friends and family.
Mixon also apologized to his neighbors for the stream of cars that has stretched through the neighborhood as community members lined up to see the destruction.
But Mixon said he hopes the fire will serve as a reminder to never underestimate the dangers of severe weather.
"I do feel like there are some teachable moments here," he said.