We had a five-alarm house fire on a Saturday afternoon in January when I was in second grade.
My parents sent us to the neighbor’s house for our safety (and to get us out of the way, I’m sure). Our poor dog, Goldie, didn’t get the memo and kept running into the house to try and save us – only to be escorted out by the firefighters.
We were so close to losing everything. Had my grandfather not arrived when he was visiting, and had my brother not been so excited to show him some new football cards he had, my brother would never have discovered his room filled with smoke in time to save the house from the fire that crawled through the walls after the chimney cracked.
Even so, my dad called 911 and hung up—thinking it might not be a big deal—before giving in and calling again.
We were lucky. Our family was displaced for about three months while they tore out the stray fireplace and chimney from our 100+ year old farmhouse (shown above) – notably the original fireplace and chimney are still there; this was the newer one.
We had to rebuild most of our living room and my siblings’ bedrooms, in addition to having everything from walls and floors to textiles and toys professionally cleaned to remove smoke stains and odors. Curtains, clothes, carpets, my mother’s wedding dress – bags and bags of things that need to be cleaned.
I don’t think my siblings and I got anything out of the house with us that day. But my mother had boxes of family photos. I remember seeing the blue photo booth with the white lid. The rest was left to the whims of the fire.
Home fires and personal loss
Now I look around my grown-up home and think: If the house was on fire and we (people and pets) were all out safely, what would I take out if I had time?
I sometimes use this thought process to create Artifcts – making sure that at worst I’ve captured the memory and at best I have a record that I can turn over to my home owner’s insurance agent for replacement (at least something ) interchangeable items. I’ve even moved some items that aren’t actively used into airtight bins that home organization professionals recommend if it would save them in a fire like the one I experienced as a child. Smoke and water were the primary sources of loss.
I asked my neighbor, Westlake Fire Chief David Wilson, about his experience with families in similar situations.
“They don’t usually come out and carry things,” he told me. When the fire department takes over the scene, families often ask the firefighters to save sentimental items, like a painting in a study, a rug from a bed, an heirloom gun from a safe or pictures from a closet.
He added: “However, we want people to be prepared. What would you save?”
As you prepare for the chilly fall and winter days and nights ahead, complete the home maintenance required to keep you, your loved ones, and your home safe. Also, use common sense and avoid setting fire traps with unattended candles, hot burning candles, poorly shielded fires, or even poorly placed (seemingly benign) glass objects that can act as solar magnifying glasses; after all, we live in a combustible world.
Take a minute (or two) to create a free account and artifct those priceless family heirlooms, photos and other items that would be irreplaceable if lost in a fire. Artifcts cannot bring the objects back, but we can help you preserve the memories, the stories and the stories behind the objects.
Additionally, here are a few nonprofit resources we found with great tactical information, planning resources, safety gear tips, and even post-fire help guides.
Ellen Goodwin is co-founder and Chief Solutions Officer of Artifcts. Headquartered in Prince William County, Artifcts is an online and app-based platform that allows you to capture, preserve and share the history, memories and stories behind all your stuff! What do you want to Artifct first?