Surviving Fire in the House

9:38 AM

March is designated as the Fire Prevention Month in the Philippines. Several hours before the month started however at about 9-10 pm of the 28th of February, my sister-in-law's house in Manila caught fire and destroyed almost all their personal belongings. How do we and our families survive a fire in the house?

What Happened?

All members of the family were downstairs when they saw smoke coming out of the window of the top floor where all their personal belongings were placed. Their small store occupies the ground floor and they were just waiting for some time to close for the day. They all rushed upstairs and the eldest son was the first to reach the room. 

He saw the curtain behind the computer already on fire and was trying to put the fire out. The father was the next to reach the room and he saw what his son was doing and told him to get out because the fire was fast spreading. Being the natural instinct of the head of the family, he tried to save some things but to no avail. He sustained burns on his head and right arm. The mother tried as well to follow but saw how impossible it was. Clearly, there was no other option but to turn back. In what seemed like a matter of seconds the whole floor was engulfed in fire.

What Happened Next?

My sister-in-law narrated how they stood helplessly watching as firemen and some other men rushed into their home trying to control and put out the fire. Even when she acknowledged the quick response of firefighters, she said that every second seemed like an hour and every move seemed like eternity. The bigger the flame got, the smaller her hopes became. She was literally watching the fruits of their labor get reduced to ashes.

After a while, her concern for her own family became a concern for the nearby houses. Their house happened to be in front of a series of houses occupying a single compound. Our own home is just 4 houses away while the house next to ours is that of my brother-in-law's. The houses in between mostly belong to cousins. This is the compound where my husband and his siblings grew up. My family and that of my brother-in-law were not in Manila when the fire broke out. We all rushed back to Manila the following day and saw for ourselves the gloomy picture of burnt things, wet things, and tired minds and bodies. The question was how to start all over again after the fire.

How to Survive a Fire in the House

Do Not Lose Control of Yourself

I have to give it to my sister-in-law for not totally losing control of herself while the fire was on-going and especially after. Presence of mind is really a key to saving lives and lessening property damages. Though surely, emotions are eventually released by crying or even shouting.

Family Members Should Close Ranks 

It is critical that family members close ranks in a fire aftermath. The affected family members may still be in shock and will most probably need to rest before facing the reality of cleaning up and determining what were actually lost. They will need help and this can be given by physical presence, financial assistance, or any kind of support that will help ease the pain and facilitate gradual acceptance of the loss.

Gather Strength to Face the Work Ahead

Tremendous work is up ahead in rebuilding destroyed physical structures and reconstructing burnt important documents. Fire victims can draw strength from their faith, their family, and the fact that they are still alive and can still find solutions. The process can be challenging, daunting in fact even to the most strong-willed but the sooner it is started, the faster it is to move on. There is also a need to determine the cause of the fire and be guided and taught by it.

My Say

It is almost impossible to find the right words to comfort fire victims. There is a Filipino saying that says it is better to be robbed than have your house burned since fire almost always manages to get personal properties in one instance. I am not actually very sure of this especially with how vicious and fatal for the victims most robberies have become nowadays. I'm sure all of us would rather not experience any of these two. There is truth however in the aspect of the extent of property loss due to fire.

Walking through the fire scene was like walking through another's life. It is hard to accept that this happened to people very close to us.  I was seeing the same things in their exact places where I last saw them, only this time they were burnt and seemed ready to crumble at the slightest of touch. Even when all the floors were still wet, the heat can still be felt in some places.

That said, I feel for my sister-in-law's family more than any word or action can ever express. I feel for my husband who understandably worries so much about his sister and her family. I feel for my family and the families of my husband's siblings who seem to be going through a particularly rough period these past months. In our last talk together yesterday, we are still resolved to find ways so we can all get through somehow together. No one gets left behind for this is a family.

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