Some Great Fire Safety Tips From Melanie & Robin

We recently received this email from a reader and have been thinking about it pretty much ever since. So we thought we’d share it in the hope that Melanie’s story will help others out there who may have gone through the same experience and people like us who probably don’t know a thing about being prepared for something of this magnitude. Here’s a photo that Melanie sent to us.

Here’s her letter:

I’ve been stalking following your blog for just over a year thanks to making an offer on a short sale home in September of 2009. It was our dream and forever home. We spent the first two months washing, priming, and painting every single wall and ceiling. We replaced every hinge, door knob, light fixture, window treatment, and put in beautiful hardwood floors on both main levels and the stairs. You name it, we most likely did it.

Sadly, on Thursday January 6th, just before 6am I woke to the sound of two second story windows shattering followed by bright lights. I peeked into our guest bedroom and flames had just begun to enter, the smoke detectors went off seconds later. My husband, our 2.5 year old son, and I escaped safely with just the clothes on our backs. We had no shoes, socks, coats, or hats in subfreezing temps. Just each other and the love of our neighbors, friends, and families. It was quickly determined to be accidental, but we lost it all including my car. Our 2.5 story 2,000+ square foot home, plus in-law suite burned to the ground very quickly (one estimate was 30-60 minutes). Within hours we also learned of the love from acquaintances and strangers in our community and beyond.

We are very lucky to have each other and our lives- but our home, and all of the hard work and DIY projects we had done were gone so very quickly. We’ve already spent five hours documenting the structure of the house, and now begins the grueling task of itemizing each and every personal belonging. We’ve learned some of the “what would we do differently” as a result of this fire, that I’m hoping you consider for yourselves and might share with your readers:

  1. Subscribe to an online data backup service (my external back up drive sat right next to my laptop in my office)
  2. Keep passports in a safe deposit box
  3. Take pictures of each room initially and update them as improvements are made (storing them somewhere offsite – like Flickr)
  4. Take pictures and keep hyperlinks of all expensive purchases, including jewelry
  5. Hire an architect (my dad in our case) or use to document each floor layout along with precise wall/ceiling measurements, each outlet, light switch, crown molding, other trim, type of flooring, any unique items to structure of property
  6. Put phones in a consistent place each night
  7. Get fire ladders for any second floor bedrooms
  8. Scan each photo and receipt, again keeping them offsite, or on an online data backup service
  9. Do not be frugal with homeowner’s insurance. Spend the extra $50 per year for the most coverage

Thank you for reading this and passing it along to your readers. -Melanie

Below is actual video of Melanie’s house. We can’t even imagine what she has been through:

We also got an email from a reader named Robin a while back. Her house nearly burned down at 2am on a Saturday morning. She and her family were thankfully able to get out safely and their home should be livable again in about three months. She also shared what she learned, so that we (and all of you) might be able to learn from her experience:

  • Toasters aren’t the only appliances that burn. The source of Robin’s fire surprised us: her dishwasher. Her family was in the habit of starting the dishwasher as they headed off to bed – something John and I used to do as well – and it malfunctioned and sparked the fire. She sent us this photo to drive home the point. Along with reminding us to avoid running appliances overnight or when we’re out, Robin taught us that sending in the warranty card on all electronics is a must, since it’s the best way to ensure that you’ll get notified if there’s a defect or a recall.

  • Robin also taught us that if your home has hard-wired detectors, be sure to have battery-powered ones as well. That way you have a back-up alarm in case of a power outage (which often happens during a fire). And remember to check the batteries twice a year. People often suggest doing it when you change the clock for daylight savings in the spring and fall as an easy way to remember. If you have children, consider installing a Talking Smoke Alarm in their room. Robin learned that studies show that kids under 17 often don’t respond to a traditional alarm, but they do respond to their parents’ voices. So these talking versions allow you to record a message that could even include instructions or comforting words.
  • Robin learned first hand that despite living in her house for over two decades, the panic of a fire makes it easy to lose your bearings and become disoriented – especially if you’ve got smoke to deal with. Which is why she recommends figuring out at least two ways you can get yourself and others out of your house (in case one is blocked) and, if you have a second or third level, make sure at least one doesn’t rely on a stairwell (fire and smoke love traveling up stairs). Then practice your plan until it’s second nature.

Robin’s tip about the talking smoke alarm actually reminded us of a something my sister Emily learned while teaching fire safety to her kids. Emily decided to have a fire drill at home, and after talking through the route, reminding them to stay low, and pointing out that it might be hot and filled with smoke the kids were given the “Ready, set, go-go-go!” Olivia, who was about seven at the time, froze in place and started crying because the scenario was so scary. It was a huge wake up call to all of us because if this was her reaction during a drill, just imagine what she’d do if the house really were dark, hot, and smoky. As scared as Olivia was, Emily was grateful that she had a chance to talk her through it, put in some practice time, and improve her reaction response.

Thanks so much for Melanie and Robin for sharing their stories and their tips with us. We can’t even begin to imagine what it would feel like to be in their shoes, but we’re so glad to hear that their families were unharmed and that everyone from their friends to their community has shown them some serious love and support. And speaking of love, we’re sending out lots of it- along with a huge thanks to both ladies for thoughtfully taking the time to share such an important message.


  1. Julie Ball says

    Excellent post! All of it is very “awakening” to me as we live in a house built in 1954 and are unsure how much wiring has been re-done; minus the wiring we KNOW we have re-done. Very good information; albeit very sad that Melanie and Robin had to experience what they did:(

  2. Nancy says

    Thank you for this post. One of our smoke detectors (hard wired with battery backup) malfunctioned and while we very happy to get the call from the service immediately we were not happy to realize that our 4 year old slept through the whole thing. And that alarm was going off for a long time and we were running around yelling over it.

  3. says

    What an important post! This happened to my husbands family when he was young and they lost everything. It is such a traumatic experience and I know it still effects him to this day. My heart goes out to those families.

  4. Pam says

    Thank you for a powerful post and things you sometimes overlook. We always run our dishwasher during the night. I’ve sent the link to hubby as well. Prayers are with Melanie and Robin’s families.

  5. KarenC says

    What a terrible loss for Melanie and Robin.

    My family’s home burned when I was 6 years old. It’s something I’ve never forgotten. My heart still skips a beat when I hear the fire trucks go out, because I always fear it’s my house.

    Great advice and information in this post. I’m going to print it out and implement some of it.

    Thanks, y’all.

  6. says


    Thanks for taking the time to share this- for most of us, this is a feared worst-case scenario. My heart goes out to that family and others who have been affected by such a terrible event.

    It’s good to take time to remind ourselves that this CAN happen.


  7. Lisa says

    This post gave me the chills. My husband and I just bought our first house in the town where Melanie lives, a few miles from her house. Early in the morning of 1/6, my brother-in-law called us to make sure we were ok, he didn’t remember our address and had just seen the house fire on the news.

    A house fire is my worst fear. Thank you for this post, fire preparation is so important.

    So glad that Melanie and Robin escaped safely…

  8. Peggy says

    Thank you for posting this; it’s a wake up call for all of us. We’ve lived in this house for 30 years, with a hard wired smoke alarm, Definitley going to get some battery operated ones.

  9. says

    Melanie’s house is in the town I grew up in and where my parents currently live. I remember hearing about this story and was just devastated, especially since the couple had put so much time and effort (and money!) into the renovations.

    Thank you for posting this story!

  10. Snickrsnack Katie says

    This is so scary… Fires are one thing that I am absolutely petrified of and am always very conscientious about. I definitely like a lot of the tips that were given here. I have often thought about how it is important to back up data somewhere other than my external hard drive. Good tip!

    What do they mean that their in-law burned to the ground? I am hoping this a code word for something else and not their real in-law. I guess I don’t know some sort of home lingo?

    • Snickrsnack Katie says

      Okay, glad to know that. I have never heard of an area of a house referred to as an “in-law” so I guess I just learned something new! :)

    • melarse (Melanie) says

      Our in-law suite was in the basement. It was like an apartment, complete with a main living room, bedroom, kitchen, full bath and laundry.

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