What I learned from almost losing our home.
Our area is prone to fire disasters. In fact, it’s been one of my fears ever since we moved to this place and we noticed that there’s a fire breaking out almost every month. Last month, some of the roads leading up to our place had been unpassable because of it. And the month before that, we woke up to a really loud crackling sound (a house two blocks from us burned down).
And then it happened. Some of the less sturdier houses directly surrounding our condo building caught fire. It started at 6:30ish AM, my husband was about to leave for work when he looked out the window and saw that there was a small fire. Both of us took videos, but the fire spread so fast that soon enough there were 4 or 5 other houses affected by it.
When we realized that our windows felt hot to the touch, we quickly grabbed our laptops, important documents, and cats. Actually, we had difficulty with the last part because our fattest and strongest cat Artemis (the one you’re seeing in the video) panicked so much, he hid. We ended up screaming in panic, and when we finally found Artemis, he struggled to get out of our hold (aaand he drew blood). We got him in the nick of time before the black smoke totally engulfed our condo unit.
We were able to get back to the unit three hours later, but just to give you an idea how bad it was, here’s a photo of our window before we started panicking:
And here’s the aftermath, when we were already able to get back to the condo (after the smoke cleared a bit). Our condo itself did not become completely breathable until we cleared some of the soot covering our stuff, and we also had to have it deep cleaned.
So many thoughts ran into our minds that day: What if my husband had left a little earlier? How the heck do I carry all the laptops, documents, and three cats (with one extra problematic fat one, to boot)? Or what if I had also left earlier to go to a meeting? Do we arrive home to three cats dead from asphyxiation? None of the fire drills we had at the office ever prepared us for a struggle with pets. And it’s so easy to say “don’t panic” in fire drills where you don’t feel smoke getting into your lungs. Having to evacuate in real life is a totally different experience. Our building turned out to be pretty sturdy, none of the fire was able to penetrate it, but what if some building resident was idiotic enough to leave a gas stove on?
Here are the things that this incident taught us:
- All your important documents should already be in an easy to carry bag (preferably one that has wheels), so that all you’d have to do is pick it up and go.
- The first thing you pack should be your cellphone, and it should always have connectivity in case you need to call Grab or have someone pick you up. I left mine, and couldn’t get it back until three hours later, when the smoke had cleared.
- Cats pick up emotions pretty quickly so if you’re panicking, they will also panic and will be harder to handle.
- Cardio and strength training first thing in the morning will ready your body for emergencies like this, especially when you have to carry three cats, all your laptops, plus important papers while using the stairs. Severe body pains when the adrenaline rush subsides is no joke.
- I learned that my physical books aren’t nearly as important as my cats. Ditto with our gunpla collection. We were quick with accepting that we may have to lose them, and now I realized that — when it’s a matter of life and death — there really isn’t any real difference between a physical book and an ebook. Except maybe you’ll be kinder to your environment if you chose the latter.
- Not being too attached to material things had made the cognitive load/decision-making easier.
- A 100+sqm condo is too big for a childless couple. The search for items and cats had been more difficult because there had been more spaces to cover.
- Closing all the windows mitigated the damage. The black soot concentrated on the rooms with windows that we couldn’t reach (like the bathrooms and the maids’ quarters).
- Double parking is bad for fire trucks. This really annoyed us because we couldn’t get our car out of the parking lot, and volunteers couldn’t reach important areas fast enough because the double parked cars slowed them down.
- Mindfulness. I never really appreciated the view we had from all our windows because I’d always be stuck in front of my computer. Thank goodness, I married someone who’s always checking what’s happening outside the premises. I really need to learn how to do this.
- The importance of emergency funds. We learned our lesson the hard way when the first cat we nurtured as a couple died in 2016. This time around, we were relieved to know that if our condo burned down, we won’t have problems finding a new place.
- Gratefulness. Everything happened at a pace that we could manage. One misplaced event (like if my husband had left earlier as he had planned) and it would have all gone terribly wrong.
I’m pretty thankful that our building had the means to assist (we had lots of water, so much that we never experienced the recent water crisis), and the admins were quick to help. Our items were all safe, albeit they all needed deep cleaning. And whew, this had been quite the adventure. One that I hope never to experience again.