What I Learned When My First Apartment Burned Down

FireStanding outside in my ill-fitting pajamas near the neighbors from an adjoining building, with a laptop and my purse clutched tightly against my chest, I remember thinking what a different experience it was for me to view what was happening than it was for them. We saw the same balls of flame on a familiar building, the same firefighters and smelled the same smoke, but for them it was something curious and maybe scary, but happening to someone else. For me, it was the terrifying and numbing knowledge that I was watching my home burn. That it was happening to me, not to the neighbors, not to someone else, but me. It was like being on the other side of a curtain, one where I couldn’t remove myself from the situation. It was too shocking a thing to take seriously, so my husband and I laughed and made jokes about saving money on moving expenses. We had been planning on moving to our new place the next day.

Forty five minutes ago, we had been having dinner. I hadn’t had much time to prepare anything so I had warmed up leftovers.  I had spent most of the day packing our things into boxes and suitcases; all the kitchen appliances we had received as gifts for our wedding, and everything else we had just bought in the past few months. My husband had gotten home from work late, and we were sitting in the living room, exhausted from a long day. I went to the kitchen to grab a drink. The living room was fairly quiet with just the buzz of the AC. There was a crash and the sound of pouring water, like a fountain. I looked up to see him looking out into the patio to see where the sound was coming from. The next moment still feels bizarre. He turned around and screamed “Fire! Run!” I didn’t comprehend, thought he was joking, realized he wasn’t, ran outside, and ran back in. I grabbed my car keys and headscarf, put on shoes, and ran back out. Our apartment was on the second floor.  The fire was on the patio of the apartment above ours. Only one other person had noticed it, and he and my husband were both calling 911. The police told my husband to let everyone in the building know. We ran around knocking on peoples doors, yelling “get out, there’s a fire!” like madmen. The fire still seemed relatively contained in the patio, so I ran back in to grab my valuables, documents, jewelry, and laptop. I felt like I was overreacting, because surely this problem would be resolved soon.

The whole thing was even a little exciting, like we were going into survivor mode, before any authorities arrived and it was all on our shoulders. People began streaming out in their pajamas, talking, shocked, and the fire began to spread. I ran to the car to put the things down. My husband saw me, and went in to get his laptop and keys. We seemed to be the only ones going back in to grab things. Our cats had smelled smoke and hidden. We tried to grab one, but she was so scared that she jumped out of our arms on the first floor and tried to get into the first apartment she could. A lady nearby told us that cats had survival instinct and they would be fine. We left our door open but didn’t go back in. The fire had grown immense and started spreading.
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Zainab moved to Austin, Texas, after getting married in June 2012. She is now doing her graduate studies in Urban Planning at the University of Texas in Austin (go Longhorns!). While Zainab has lived in almost ten different apartments with her parents, and subleased once for a semester with roommates. She is now living in her second apartment, after fire destroyed her first one. She enjoys volunteering, drawing, and writing in her free time.

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  1. Admin Admin

    Just like Zainab, many first time renters skip renter’s insurance thinking they have nothing valuable enough to insure. Often, the furniture is hand-me-downs and street finds not worth much, but even if you only have to replace all the electronics, clothing and sports equipment you have lying around, it can add up to thousands.

    Last summer our bloggers Alissa and Alex were robbed. They were lucky to have renter’s insurance.

    So, check out renter’s insurance. It only costs a couple of hundred a year and if you ever have to file a claim, you’ll thank us for this reminder.