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Liar, liar, house on fire

It would seem to me that, as humans, we like to lie to ourselves. Sometimes this reflexive instinct can, on the surface, strike me as a form of ego-massaging, but mostly I think it serves as a form of self-preservation.

What kind of lies am I talking about? Oh, how about that if you don’t dress like a slut, then you won’t get raped. Or perhaps that Canada doesn’t get enough sun to even bother worrying about skin cancer. And surely, you’ve heard that high-school is the best time of your life?

I suppose if we didn’t lie to ourselves about some of these things, we’d kill ourselves from worry. So, yeah, a bit of self-preservation me thinks.

Here’s a lie that I realized that I tell myself: House fires happen to people that smoke in bed. Or drunk people that knock candles over late at night. Or perhaps to someone cooking up french fries with a huge vat of grease. Basically: other people — certainly not you, and certainly not me.

And I also tell myself: If a fire starts in your garage, you’ll have time to round up the family and trot yourself out the door — maybe even while grabbing a photo album or laptop on the way.

These lies were kicked right up in my face this past weekend. They slapped me hard, and left me tear-stained.

I can tell you from being an eye witness to my neighbour’s house fire that started in their garage this past weekend: non-smoking, non-french-fry-cooking, sober people suffer the tragedy of a house fire. In fact, it can even happen to one of the smartest, sweetest, most charming families you know.

And once it starts, the smoke takes over the house so fast that you cannot see or breathe. So, suffocatingly, terrifyingly fast. The fire trucks arrive quickly, but by the time they do, half of your home is charcoal.

A family of four lost their dog and their Manotick home in a severe fire Friday evening.

Photograph by: Mike Carroccetto, The Ottawa Citizen

Although my neighbours have lost a great deal, they did not lose each other in this fire because they were not home at the time. Of the three pets, one dog and one cat escaped, and sadly, the second dog was killed from the smoke.

As a community, we are all so grateful that our neighbours are safe. But promise me that out of all the lies you need to keep alive for your own emotional self-preservation, get rid of this one: house fires are so rare; I don’t need to worry about it. Instead:

These things don’t actually take that long to do. (As you can imagine, my family did them all about a thousand times this weekend.) So, take an hour aside this weekend and have a family meeting. You’ll feel better, and so will I.


  1. Julie, I’m so sorry for your neighbour. I know how devastating a fire can be, but I also know how such experiences make you realize just how many people care for you. My family lost our house to a fire when I was nineteen. Ours was caused by lightning, which struck our house and burned it to the ground despite the fact we had a lightning rod. Sometimes these things just happen.

    If you’re interested, these are the posts I’ve written about my own experiences dealing with a housefire:

    The other thing you can do to make life easier for yourself if you ever do have a fire is just go around and take photos of all the major items you own, then store a copy of the photos someplace other than your house. As part of the process of applying for insurance, we had to list everything we owned, when we bought it, its original purchase price, and the price it would cost to replace. These are difficult details to recall under the best of circumstances, but they’re even more difficult to remember when the items no longer to exist and you have to rely on your memory.

    • Mary Lynn,
      I read every word of every post that you wrote on your family’s house fire. Thank you for sharing your link with me (and the rest of us here at Coffee with Julie). Your words are so evocative … it really brings the full experience to life — the bad and the good.

  2. Thanks for this Julie. It is such an important message. I have the plan in my head and I promise to talk it over with my family tomorrow.

  3. Great post, Julie.

    I have a horror of fire. Every night before going to bed I check the stove to make sure that burners, broiler and oven are switched off.

    A few years ago, our local fire station sent firemen to every house in the neighborhood to ensure that we all had smoke alarms on every floor. They actually came into the house and checked them, and made sure that they were all working properly.

    • I tend to check the stove a lot too … but I am worried about my kids burning themselves. *sigh* so many things to worry about, eh? That is so cool that the firemen came around to each house. I suspect many houses forget to change the batteries or replace broken smoke alarms.

  4. wow, that’s a scene. It’s like living in an arthquake zone, which we are, downstream from a nuclear plants, which we are, but compounded by living in high density housing and so many materials made of things which when burn make a toxic smoke. Living on the edge every day in our own seemingly safe way.

  5. Oh so so so sad to hear about your neighbours’ house fire. It seems to be a big thing here where we are temporarily based in the Boston area as well. Two houses (not right near us, but close enough) went up in smoke recently and everyone was reminded of the importance of knowing exit routes and creating safety plans. So glad no one was hurt, but still – what a rebuilding will need to take place.

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