What precious things would you grab in a house fire?

Guest post by Mayday
Fake house facades on fire. Photo by: Joseph KrawiecCC BY 2.0

What precious things would you grab in a house fire?

It’s a “what if” question that gets bandied around often. I’ve heard, and given, many different answers over the years. My dog. My cat. Photo albums. A jewelry box. Signed books. Family heirlooms.

It’s all bullshit. You don’t have the time to run through the house, collecting all your possessions. You grab what you see on the way out the door.

May 2011, I “grabbed” two purses, two laptops, the house phone, and my hysterical mother.

Lightning had hit a tree across the street; the tree’s roots were wrapped around a water pipe, which created a perfect conductor for the electrical current. The neighbor whose yard the tree was in lost their fridge when the water/ice dispenser shorted out.

Our hot water heater caught fire.

In the end, while it could have been a lot worse, we still lost a lot. The fire ran rampant through the attic. We lost years’ worth of heirlooms. My mother’s wedding bouquet. Christmas ornaments that my brother and I made in kindergarten. Baby clothes. Pictures. Paintings. Books. Furniture my great-grandparents had owned.

When major traumatic events happen, people always react differently. My father became short-tempered and mean. My mother became prone to sudden crying fits when she thought about certain things. My brother, thankfully, had moved out and missed a lot of this.

I shut down. Completely. Utterly. Shut down. I missed only one day of work because I literally had no clothing to wear. I locked myself up so tightly that I eventually started wishing I had been asleep when the fire had started, that I hadn’t woken up…

That was the sign that it was time to talk to a doctor to get some help, and it was when my parents realized that I wasn’t being a zombie just to hurt them.

We lived in a hotel for a month before we found a house to rent. Three months after we’d moved into the rental house, I went to the UK by myself for two weeks. I’d planned a trip and everything was long pre-paid before the fire.

It’s a very humbling experience to have literally everything you own in a camping backpack. And, for me, it was… freeing. I could do whatever I wanted. I could go wherever I wished. I didn’t need permission, or accountability, or anything past what I had with me.

In a way, the fire was a good thing for me…

I moved to California — I took the chance. I had confidence. I had everything I truly needed. I had nothing to keep me in Louisiana. Six weeks after I moved, I met my fiance. After being unemployed for nine months, I went back to school. I’ve gained so many friends and my family is expanding more and more each year.

Recently, on a drive to work I saw smoke rising over the mountains. I was suddenly terrified again. Even if you logically know that you can’t run through and save things, your mind still flashes to what’s important, what you want to protect.

Luckily the fire was far enough away that we didn’t need to worry. Besides, this is what fireproof boxes and renter’s insurance are for. But it was a good reminder.

So, what do you think you’d try to save in a house fire?

Comments on What precious things would you grab in a house fire?

  1. We had a massive house fire in 2002. We grabbed 2 kids, and ended up with smoke inhalation trying unsuccessfully to grab my 6 yr old brother. My chest still locks up every time I smell smoke.

  2. Last summer a nearby apartment unit caught fire in my building and we had to evacuate. Fortunately there was no damage to my unit, but it was a good fire drill of wrangling my dog into her leash/harness and scooping 3 spooked but sleepy rescue rats into the travel carrier ASAP, one of whom can nip when she’s startled. I was surprisingly quick at it and was glad everybody was OK. The neighbors lost a lot but no one was home so they were at least physically safe.

  3. We had a scare a couple of years ago in our apartment complex. My husband grabbed our son and my cat. Since they were safe, my only thought was to grab my daughter’s urn. I couldn’t imagine losing her again.

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