6 Incredibly Important Things I Learned From My Home (Almost) Burning Down


1. We need to look out for each other better.

The fire started because one of our ground-floor neighbors had forgotten to turn off her electric stove. A wiping cloth and plastic box she’d left on top of the stove eventually caught fire. She’d also had the TV turned on, had apparently not been home for some days, and had left her dog alone.

Such simple mistakes quickly turned into a near-tragedy that almost cost other people their lives and homes. Even the dog could’ve died of smoke inhalation had the firefighters not arrived on time.

We need to be aware of even our seemingly trivial actions as they may potentially reverberate through the community. Directly and indirectly, you’re responsible for other people’s lives, whether you like it or not. It doesn’t matter if you’re living in a house or an apartment building. We all have an equal and shared duty to care for one another.

2. Don’t assume your safety as fact.

When we moved to this relatively safe neighborhood, we automatically assumed all things were in order. It was, after all, a known area for good and quality living. Thus we were shocked when the police and fire departments banged at our doors at the break of dawn and yelled at us to get out of the building.

The fire alarms hadn’t worked. In fact, we realized there were no smoke alarms existing in the hallways! Luckily, the person living beside the burning apartment had woken up early and seen the smoke. He was the one who called the police.

Real talk? Big firms such as insurance companies and property rental companies don’t really care about you. They care about your buck and patronship. You should watch your own back, and never take your security for granted.

Additionally, many of us have this notion of, “It will never happen to me,” when thinking of extreme circumstances such as accidents or misfortune. While you shouldn’t live your life in constant fear, you’re also not a god. It can happen to you and it might, so it’s best to be prepared rather than be sorry.

3. What you wear and how you look won’t matter when you’re dead.

In the rush of the situation, I only managed to grab an oversized shirt, boots, and a random coat. My shirt was put on inside-out, and my left boot was on my right foot while the right boot was on my left foot. I had no underwear on because we normally sleep naked, and I was too panicked to find them. Although my nether regions froze in the wintry cold, at least I managed to get out safely.

Meanwhile our third floor neighbors took literally 10 minutes to get out. The authorities were banging on their door and nearly decided to break in to drag them out. Apparently the parents had told their 2 young girls to dress properly so as not to look inappropriate in front of the male officers outside.

It was fortunate that the fire was very small (though at the time of exiting we didn’t know this) and was quickly put out. Had it spread it might’ve ended badly for the neighbors.

4. Your life is worth more than your material possessions.

Some people may have been traumatized by poverty or have lived in fear of poverty for so long that in the event of a fire they will risk their lives to save as many of their possessions as possible. While the reaction is understandable especially since not everyone can afford insurance or to start over, we ought to overcome this impulse in the face of danger. Your life and safety are priceless and irreplaceable. Lost material wealth can be replaced over time through different—albeit challenging—means. However, a lost life can never be regained.

5. It’s easy to forget that people are people.

As me and my neighbors stood outside watching the firemen work, we, for the first time, began really talking to each other.

I discovered that the guy who called 911 (who I always assumed to be a single father as he lives with a teenaged boy) is actually an impromptu stepfather. His ex-girlfriend disappeared one day and left a note saying she no longer wished to raise her two sons that she had with another man. Our neighbor stepped up, gave the kids a home, and raised them. The older boy no longer lives with him, but he still continues to help provide for the other one.

We also have a new neighbor who we regarded as annoying since she always finds an excuse to talk to you and seems nosy. While we huddled together worrying about if our shared home would be inflamed, we got to know her and found out she suffers from bipolar disorder and depression. She chats so much because sometimes she feels lonely, and other times because she’s having an episode.

We’ve all never really bothered to get to know each other or even converse with one another bar the hasty “Hi” or polite small-talk during chance encounters in the hallway. Of course we know that each person has their own life, story and personal demons, but sometimes it’s so easy to forget that. We’re so focused on living our own lives and heading to our respective apartments after a tiring day that we’ve lost the ability to be aware of other people’s humanity and actual existence.

It shouldn’t take a catastrophe or a tragic backstory for you to be interested in and have concern for other people.

6. Anger is reaction, forgiveness is action.

I get why everyone was and is still super pissed at the neighbor who unknowingly caused the fire. Her actions were quite irresponsible and easily avoidable. But at the end of the day, none of us got hurt. All we have to deal with is the inconvenience of a smelly and slightly smoky hallway that’ll hopefully clear up in a few days.

We have to empathize with each other, even the perpetrator, and think about things from her point of view. People don’t just normally turn on their appliances and not come home for long periods. Perhaps she had a family emergency she had to rush out to. Perhaps she had a grueling and emotionally exhausting week, month, or year that led her to be careless for one day.

If things turned out for the worse, then I’d probably be angry and resentful myself. But they didn’t, so I don’t see the point of ganging up on and holding a grudge over a girl who is most likely highly embarrassed and feeling unwanted at her own home.

Our anger should be proportionate to the gravity of the situation. We shouldn’t dwell on the “what if” and instead be thankful that things ended up alright, learn from each other’s errors, and begin to improve how we tend to one another.