What Would You Grab in a Fire?

One day last summer, I had just finished my step aerobics class at the gym across the street and swung open the front door to our apartment complex when I smelled it. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was smelling until I had taken a few steps up the stairs.


Holy crap! The staircase was stinking of smoke! I sprinted up the stairs like a mad woman (it wasn’t until much later that I thought I should probably run away from smoke, not towards it).

I flung open the door to the landing and was determined to grab whatever I could from our apartment before the flames overtook the building. I imagined my laptop melted into a pile of goo on my desk and flames creeping up my bookshelves to the ceiling.

As I crossed the threshold onto the second floor landing, I realized that this smoke smelled distinctly different from regular smoke. It was the smell of a very popular form of…um, herbal refreshment.

What can I say? This is San Francisco.

The smoky smell came out from under my neighbors’ apartment door, and I swear I could hear low giggling. The building wasn’t on fire. I just shared it with a bunch of pot-smoking stoners.

My books, laptop, clothes, and other odds-and-ends may have been safe that day, but this almost-tragedy got me thinking.

What would you grab in a fire?

Let’s assume that our loved ones and pets are safely on the curb with the concerned neighbors in their bunny slippers and robes. You have less than a minute to grab the most important things in your home…

How do you decide what’s worth saving?

There’s a great Web site called The Burning House where people submit photos of what they would save in a fire. It’s so interesting to see what people value: photographs, foreign currency, toys, iPads, a toothbrush, cuff links, 3D glasses, a passport, a banana.

So…if I were standing on my balcony watching a raging California wildfire inch its way down the street (that’s awful that this is a real possibility), here’s what I would grab before piling into the car with Chris and Skyla.

  • My laptop
  • My Tiffany & Co. Atlas necklace (unless I were already wearing it)
  • The scrapbook of my favorite vacation (Walt Disney World Halloween 2008)
  • My gratitude journal
  • My favorite candle (it smells like iced tea with lemon)

It’s not much, but honestly, if my home were really on fire, I wouldn’t take anything. I’d just want to get outta there.

I’ve heard people answer that “what would you grab in a fire” question by saying something along the lines of, “I’d save my grandparents’ handwritten love letters.” But those “precious” letters are stuffed in a box in the basement. Forget fires—what if it floods?

Take a walk around your home and think about what things are most important to you. Are they easily accessible if you need to find them in a hurry? Are your important papers in a fireproof safe?

Or are you seeing a lot of things that just aren’t important enough to sling over your shoulder while dashing out of a burning house? Maybe you can consider donating or selling items that no longer have meaning in your life.

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  1. Tinfoil Tiaras on January 30, 2012 at 5:55 pm

    When I began reading I was all “oh no that’s awful” and then “oh boy, I would probably make the same mistake!” hahah oh how I hate the smell of weed! Hmmm I was going to say my cats but you said they are safe so probably my laptop, raw opal ring inherited from my Nana, camera and agenda 🙂

  2. TheGirlAtFirstAvenue on January 30, 2012 at 6:49 am

    Oh my! That’s a tough question.. there are so many things that I want to grab. I’d probably grab my laptop, camera and my handbag!
    Hey do you want to follow each other?

  3. Cara on January 29, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    We had a fire in our building several weeks ago and I woke my husband, grabbed a hat, scarf, mittens and my cellphone and got out. If I had thought about it for another second, I’d have grabbed our wedding album, my Boston Marathon finisher’s medal and this beautiful quilt my mom made from a bunch of my shirts from childhood. Those things are just irreplacable.

  4. Shybiker on January 29, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    Good questions, thought provoking. The older I get, the less I care about my “things”. What matters more to me are my experiences, my memories and my friends. In pre-computer days, I’d have grabbed my photos but they’re all digital now and stored in several places.

  5. xvavaveganx on January 29, 2012 at 11:32 am

    Honestly if I only had a few seconds to grab things I’d grab some old photos…baby pics and photos from over the years. Pre facebook photos 🙂 These are the only things that I can think of that are irreplaceable. If I had a little more time I’d grab my laptop and phone.

    PS, when you said “herbal refreshments” I immediately thought of Clueless! 🙂

  6. Anna on January 29, 2012 at 11:24 am

    I’d save my laptop, iPad, iPhone, Nook, PS3, desktop, Tiffany earrings, everything Tom has ever given me (leather jacket, purple bag, Jimmy Choos, gold earrings, heart necklace, snowflake hat, etc). My apartment is teensy so I can grab my whole closet in one trip 😉 Tom can grab the electronics, and… we’re OUT!

    We actually had a fire in our building last year because some idiot didn’t put out a bloody cigarette. It was far away from out unit but still… asshole >:(

    • Sage on January 29, 2012 at 11:33 am

      I used to be able to grab everything in my closet in one trip, but I’ve slowly started accumulating more possessions. I might need to consider whether I need all this stuff.

      When you live in an apartment building, you gotta be mindful of the other tenants! People who are careless like that make me so mad! Glad you were OK.

  7. Megan Gann on January 29, 2012 at 11:22 am

    Everything I’d save is within very quick arm reach. I have two binders full of important papers, my phone, my nook, and a pair of shoes (cuz I’m not running out without at least one pair of my shoes). It’s all pretty much replaceable. In a fire, I’d be happy to get myself out safe. Having moved many times where many items were never recovered, stuff is replaceable. People aren’t. And I know many would say some things like family photos etc are irreplaceable, but my memories of family are in my head.

    • Sage on January 29, 2012 at 11:36 am

      Shoes! How could I forget shoes? I’d put on my favorite New Balance crosstrainers. Then I could run from the fire if I had to!

      You’re right that the happy memories are in your head. I have dozens of scrapbooks, so they’d have to be left behind, but I put so much love and effort into the one in the above photo that I’d try to save it if I could.