What would you take with you if your house was on fire?

Maria Popova: "That’s precisely the question Foster Huntington asked himself, so he gathered the belongings he himself would take and photographed them, then asked a few friends to do the dame. Then, on May 10 of 2011, he launched The Burning House with 10 such photographs. Within a few hours, he got his first submission from a complete stranger. Within a few days, he was making headlines" [Brainpicker]


  1. My computer, my backup drive, and my cats. Probably my wallet. Everything else is replaceable.

  2. I am guessing most of these people have never been in an actual structure fire, where literally seconds (and very few of them) count.

    I suspect if you actually asked structure fire survivors you would end up with a very different list, consisting mainly of family members, pets included.

    1. My brother, dog, My laptop (if I could get to it, otherwise ditch,) My grandad’s chair (my brother’s house was on fire, he went back in to get the rocker.)

      Everything else is replaceable.

  3. Child, cat, cat, iPad & iPhone. 

    In that order. 

    Everything’s insured, all important data is backed up offsite.

    The iPad would simply be a convenience to organise the cleanup, I wouldn’t risk anything for it, as I could simply buy another one and restore from the cloud.

  4. As much as I want to say my family – honestly any time there is an emergency the first thing I look to is pants… if I’m already wearing pants then I’m fine – but pants always seem to be a number one for me – so hopefully it wouldn’t cause anyone else to be injured.

    1. Seems like a strange choice to me.

      And I adamantly refuse to go outside not wearing trousers.

      (Edit: If I have a choice, I mean.)

      1.  Well I think that’s my point – in past emergency situations (thankfully no fires) I was pulling up the pants before I could focus on anything else – so as much as I hate to *admit* it – it seems that is a real priority when I’m in a rush :)

        As to the rest of it – it’s all items – family is first – pets if there is time – anything else is why I have insurance.

  5. My son. Everything else is minor in comparison.

    Still, losing my laptop, phone and wallet would suck, so if my son is safe and there’s still time, I’m getting those. They’re often all in my backpack, so if I pick that up, I save some more crap and got my hands free to save some other stuff. My PC and the tablets perhaps?

    And some reading material. It sucks to be homeless without something to read. And of course my son’s favourite toy rabbit, but quite likely he already saved that one himself.

    And some (extra) clothes for everybody.

  6. This question was already answered in Pratchett’s brilliant book Maskerade. What you take out of a house on fire is the bloody fire.

  7. Judging by the photos on that site it’s not worth surviving the fire unless you look awesome doing it. 

    Seriously, I read through four entries before I found a single thing that wasn’t easily replaceable. 

    1. Really?  How does one replace a ring one got from  Dad when one was 12?

      Try to find the same one and pretend it’s the same?

      I’m actually – despite owing a crapton of stuff – not that emotionally attached to stuff. I have a type slug of my name my long deceased father made when I was little.  It is more or less irreplaceable, anything like it would just be a pointless copy.

      I wouldn’t risk anything to safe it, but I can understand that stuff like that is very important to some people. 

      1.  That one with the ring wasn’t up when I read it.  I read Samir Abady, Davey Honda, then I skipped to Davey Honda .  Looking back the one I skipped had some “acceptably nostalgic” stuff in it…

        It’s hard to think about these lists because what you are seeing is a list of how people prioritize things in an imagined situation with a lot of imaginary variables.  I see an iPad or a camera as a replaceable tool, these people see it as something worth saving.  I have no idea what else these people own, maybe this represents the sum of their possessions and they aren’t saddled with their great great grandmothers wedding kimono still stained with her virgin blood.  Maybe the iPad is stained with her virgin blood, I dunno.

        But this is the thing about this project:  My impression is that it’s the hip kid equivalent of the that “What’s Your Load” blog (I forget the name) where imaginary tough guys show off the bad ass guns and knives and cigarette cases they carry concealed on their persons whenever they go where there might possibly be black people.  It’s possession porn, it’s a way of putting your face up on the internet through objects and showing yourself as someone with good taste. 

        I don’t think the project started out that way, but that’s the impression I get from the pages I looked at.  I’m mostly not seeing passports and medicine and irreplaceables, I’m seeing lifestyle affectations.

        I guess what I really would like to see is a split off “desert island” or “moving into a small studio apartment” version where you show me what books you think are important.  But don’t try and tell me that the Shel Silverstein book is worth saving from the fire.  If it was the last one in the world, yes, but if you are telling me that you’d save this particular one from the fire and you aren’t saying why it’s unique then you aren’t really addressing the “What I’d save from a fire” question properly.

        Pardon my crankiness, I’m sure I’ll get my ironic come-uppance in a fire shortly.

        1. Nah, I find most of the choices strange and pointless as well. But Mot of them had at least one irreplaceable thing on their list.

          As I wrote above: I would grab my iPad after far more important “things”, because for practical reasons.

          Then again what I would save first aren’t things, but people.

          But it’s an art project, of course, so it’s probably not fair to expect a reasonable list. It’s more of an “This is important to me”-list.

        2. I completely agree — both with the fact that most things pictured are entirely replaceable, and with the fact that this whole project is (has become?) a matter of showing off you coolness factor by which hip things you own.

          As to the first question, though, part of the issue with replaceability is that I try not to attach too much nostalgia or emotional attachment to physical things. That is: I really love my guitar. I really adore my Shun knife. But if they burned in a fire? I’d get the same ones.

          Sure, that new guitar wouldn’t have been through years with me, but it’s just a damn guitar.

          Me, I’d pick my wife, my cat, and my photographs. The old black-and-white photobooth photographs of me and my wife just aren’t the same digitally scanned and reproduced, I’ve tried. Ok, so maybe I have some sentimentality to physical things.

    2. I couldn’t make it to the bottom of the first page. Shirts, books, and ipods? What the fuck is wrong with these people?

      I’m just as sentimental about my loot as anyone else is, but when a burning roof is crashing down on my head I’m pretty sure it’ll be a secondary concern.

      My only “plan” for dealing with inanimate objects in a fire is to grab the briefcase we keep in the main hallway that contains important documents and various computer backups (which are technically a luxury, but dvd’s are lightweight and easy to sneak in). The briefcase exists for that specific purpose.. in an emergency it can be grabbed quickly as we hustle out the door/window.

      1. Yeah, I was looking at all the books… most of the pictures contains some books. Why??? Sure it would suck to have some special edition, signed, given you by some very dear relative, book destroyed in a fire… but… risk your life for a book??? And most of them looked new, and didn’t have any mention of being unique in some way. Just cash in the insurance money and walk into a book store!

        Major cudos for your briefcase!!! That is what came to my mind when looking at all the cra… stuff. Store it in one place, you are not going to have time to run around the house looking for everything you “need” to grab. Better yet… store it in some bank vault or some other (hopefully) fireproof place.

        1. I’d take my copy of East of the Sun West of the Moon illustrated by Kay Nielsen (which – holy shit – is selling for $6K at an antique book dealer) before I’d take the computer.

    3. I sort of agree.  I think the thing missing here is a limit.  If he said, “What are the 5 things you’d bring with you?” then at least you could prioritize and it would open up a few options.  As it is now, it’s more of a vanity project for people to list things that are important to them but may not actually be relevant to the actual question.

      I mean, no question, my wife and daughter are the first things I would think about, but if I DID have time to grab a few more items I could start to see things that are replaceable at the end of the day: my wallet, my laptop, my phone, etc…

      It just needs more constraints.

      1.  The trick is to train your wife and daughter to be grabbing things while you grab them, so you run out the building like a multi-armed Shiva – each hand holding a precious treasure.

  8. So everyone is going to save their cameras and lenses? Do these people not have insurance? I’m not wasting any of my 10 slots on something that I can just replace with a newer, better version once I get my money. Plus, Foster and I would probably not get along well. I don’t like the stuff his friends are saving.

    1.  yeah,  all that “stuff” is getting bothersome… i say let it all burn, it would be a relief actually… (nope, i’m not being ironic)

    2.  Actually, no, I bet most of these folks don’t have insurance.  Or if they do, they are still on their folk’s home owners insurance – I feel that it’s that sort of crowd I’m seeing stuff from. 

  9. All those passports…I guess they will all go “oh well” and go off on a vacation overseas.

  10. 1) check all rooms if there is anyone inside
    2) remember to leave all doors to all rooms open so my cats can get out if they were too freaked out to respond to my calls
    3) fuck the material stuff – i’ve got it all in my head anyway and the insurance will cover the cost (i hope)

  11. The cat pictured in my avatar. Hopefully I’d have the presence of mind and the opportunity to grab his harness or his box. After that, the usuals: photos, laptop, bass, bike, vintage KLH speakers, and a bottle of whisky if I had any on hand at the time.

  12. Alas, I have seven cats, and it would be impossible to hunt all of them down to throw them outside. I wish cats were smart enough to get out of a house on fire instead of hiding somewhere. Or are they?

  13. Grab my laptop (important data, I’m a web developer; very likely already in front of me), grab my phone (2nd factor auth and important for communication; docked next to the laptop), on my way out grab my jacket (all keys, cards, etc… are attached to the wallet that always sits in the jacket), bug out…

    1. Daniel, grabbing a laptop makes probably sense, but shouldn’t you have backed up anything important off-site anyway? 

      1. I haven’t found a backup solution I’m happy with yet. And I obsess over the small changes that won’t have been backed up yet.

        Also I try to lock things up pretty tightly. If my laptop were to be destroyed along with my phone and jacket I would be completely locked out from nearly every online account I have. And it would take cooperation getting my previous home phone and internet services restored (an operation that would probably leave me nearly unable to work for several days) in order to regain access to everything.

        1. That’s why I back up often. :-)

          It’s always the little things.

          Anyway, I haven’t found the perfect solution yet.  As haven’t some of my former friends and colleagues, who took that as an excuse to do nothing.  I’ve gotten far to money frantic calls for restoration tools, though. 

          I myself have three *) kinds of irreplaceable data:

          * Mail

          * Projects – paid and unpaid.  Even the unpaid have eaten far too much time to lose.

          * Photos 

          Mails are all in IMAP and therefore backed up, too, in a a manner. **)

          Projects are all in git.  Any reasonable change gets committed and pushed to a local bare repository, from which I pull on the other machines. I usually rsync that to an off-site disc at once, to,  At least once a day.

          Photos get synced to  the same off-site disc, whenever I import new ones.

          Far from perfect, but I’me freelance right now, I think it’s sufficient for the price.

          *) There’s more, but much off it is in the cloud, too. And lots of irreplaceable data isn’t that important. Would I miss all those pictures, files, movies, etc I collected from the net during 20 years? Sure, a little bit, but I wouldn’t spend time to recover them.

          **) For what’s it worth, I’ve took this exchange as an reminder to back up my mail, too, in the same manner, right now.  :-)

  14. One night we woke up to the apartment building’s front door being smashed in and saw a lot of blinking lights through the blinds. The stairway was filled with smoke.

    What did we grab? We put our cats in their carrier, took our wallets and car key, and got out. (Note for hopefully-never-ever-to-come-next-time: Tell the firemen what apartment you exited from.) Fortunately it was only our next door drunk neighbor who had left a cigarette on his couch. But that is what I would save in a fire… get my daughter and husband out, get our wallets and car keys on the way out if we have time for it. No things are worth dying for.

    1. Err.. Anything with a hard drive or equivalent can be replaced.  You are probably concerned about irreplaceable data.   That should be copied to an off-site facility anyhow.

  15. I would take things such as:

    – Computers and media drives with important stuff on them – I don’t entirely trust my fireproof media safe (and plus, my computers aren’t in it.)

    – Any papers and whatnot I can grab that aren’t in the safe

    – Time permitting, any collectibles like watches and etcetera

    How would I carry this stuff? 

    I would use my genuine L.L. Beanbag. 

    You need this Beanbag, it’s incredible!  Follow the link to view the full line of L.L. Beanbags. They’re Incredible!


  16. My house buned down three months ago, so I know exactly what I’d take: my spouse.

    When the fire outside my bedroom window woke me up (at 4am) I immediately shook my husband awake. Then we ran. I thought to leave the front door open for my cats, but I didn’t grab anything, not even pants.

    One cat escaped, the other was pulled, wet but unharmed, from the rubble. The rabbit was protected by being in a far closet and didn’t even get wet! We got really lucky, but even in retrospect I wouldn’t have done it differently. My husband was the only thing in that house I’d risk my life for.

  17. 1) Get wife and daughter heading out the door.

    2) If enough time (and there won’t be) sweep the books from the bookshelf in my office into a bag.

    3) On the way out the door pull the backup drive from the server.

    Or, yes, take the fire, if I could.

  18. This happened to me once! The first apartment I had in Salt Lake, the tenants above me left a candle burning which landed on their mattress so the place nearly burned down. I had previously set aside my items I’d take with me in case of such an emergency, and I grabbed them all: Box of childhood memories, my mom’s guitar and jewelry box, my banjo, homework & laptop, 72 hour kit, and a blanket. It feels good to be prepared!

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