One saved photo of a precious family memory – (camping along the Murray River.)

 

You might think that a house fire will never happen to your family. I hope it doesn’t! However, despite our best efforts to keep our family safe, my husband and I now say that one should ‘never, say never!’ A house fire happened to us. In short, we are all OK and that’s all that matters. As you’d expect, it was scary but we learnt so much- on so many levels.

The story: We completely lost significant parts of our home and a vehicle. We had to evacuate our daughter while she was sleeping. She got out safely but later, she showed signs of PTSD.

The periodic flashbacks we all experienced, not to mention the chaos and displacement, material loss and emotional trauma are all factors that do still haunt me as a mother-when I ‘go there in my mind’. I am aware of my own unhelpful thoughts and with professional help and guidance, my family members are acknowledging their individual experiences on the night but know we are all OK and we will be OK. Our kids and doggies are fine- shaken but here to tell other families what they can do to help themselves in this situation- should it ever happen.

So, what did we learn?

 

Things we wished we spoke about before the fire:

 

  1. Serviced smoke alarms?

The story: Yes, our smoke alarms were new and working well. The fire accidentally started outside, in a carport and by the time we heard the smoke alarms, the exterior walls and roof were well alight. Luckily, there was time to evacuate. We all look back with a shudder and still say, ‘THAT FIRE SPREAD SO QUICKLY!’ The flames rose so high!

 

  1. Do you have a meeting point in case your family is separated?

The story: On the night of our fire, there was a terrible time when we lost track of our two girls (in their early 20s) even though we knew they were ‘out’. We had caring neighbours on opposite corners,  caring for each of our kids and their frightened dogs. The problem: There was a frightening time when we didn’t know where they were as we couldn’t see them due to the chaos, the thick smoke (my car was well-alight) and the flashing lights. Thank goodness for lovely and amazing neighbours! Have an agreed and accessible assembly point to gather at. You need to ascertain if everyone’s out and safe.  We didn’t have an assembly point and we could have alleviated some stress.

 

 

  1. Do you know where you’re your nearest fire hydrant is?

The story: Once the fire brigade came, we were asked where the nearest fire hydrant was. I thought surely, they’d know, but they need to double check. Look at the poles on your street and see if there a blue rectangular reflector on a white metal background, which points out the direction of the hydrant. (We live in suburban Melbourne, not far from the CBD and the hydrant was in the road, near the gutter- news to me!) Disclaimer: Check your Fire Dept’s website and phone for further information. Depending on where you live, this signage information might not be relevant. Ask your kid’s school to access the fire safety programs on offer. It might just save a life- or two. Check out your state or territory’s websites.

 

  1. Have you recently checked your insurances?

The story: Were we insured? Yes, but we still lost many sentimental photos, childhood keepsakes (baby mementoes, school reports, artwork,  kiddies’ Xmas decorations etc. all so upsetting!) Review the amount and dates of household and vehicle insurance. Sure, we dutifully  paid insurances on time, every year but the sinking question of ‘Did we pay it this year, I can’t remember?’ surfaced during our interrupted sleep, after the fire was extinguished. That was purely our fear taking over! Check the level of cover and review your needs. We were only ‘just covered’ but thought we had enough cover for everything. We were mistaken.

 

  1. Cloud storage?

If you are a child of the 80s or, before 😉  you probably have boxes of envelopes (together with negatives!) stuffed with various photos that you intend to scan ‘someday.’ Don’t delay. Make time to scan all sentimental pictures and take photos of your valuables and receipts (for insurance purposes.) Store the files in a ‘cloud’ for safe-keeping. They will be fire safe there! Ask a savvy teen if they want to earn extra pocket money. Or, ask them to take iPhone pictures of your photos until they are properly scanned.

A photo of a photo is better than nothing!

 

Granted, this is not the best quality of a copy, but honestly, right now, we’d be grateful for any snaps of our lost photos! We did manage to save more than you’d expect. There are ways of fixing water-damaged images!

 

A question: If you’re worried about cyber- safety, think about whether you’d prefer to deal with a box of ashes (as we did) or face an unlikely risk of someone accessing your photos among millions of other photos. What do you think now? Update your e-security if you’re still concerned. It’s a personal choice.

Some older photos were saved!

 

 

Looking back now, despite the hardship, we are richer for having had such a reality call this year. We haven’t rebuilt yet and that’s OK. It will happen.  Our family’s Christmas will be extra special this year.  We think that we might even ‘get it’ now. After the fire, we have learnt that our possessions are just ‘stuff.’ We’ve heard it before but we know it now. We still maintain that, house fires are horrific and some of our lost ‘stuff’ was important, even special. Admittedly, we didn’t lose everything compared to some families. We were lucky we got away relatively unscathed, despite the trauma of the ‘what ifs?’  For us at home, our Christmas is all about love and helping others. I trust this article helps other families. With bushfire season in full swing here in Australia, there are other survival considerations. Plan to have a family discussion soon. Be safe.

 

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