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Week 15: Fire #52ancestors

April 8, 2020

Professional genealogist and podcaster Amy Johnson Crow has put out the challenge to genealogists and family historians, to write stories about 52 of their ancestors in 52 weeks.

I am happily taking up the challenge, and look forward to writing stories, that will collate many years of research results. In most cases, the research for my ancestors is not complete, and possibly never will be complete, but I’m hoping to build a story of the lives they lived with the information I have to hand. I’m hoping to publish these stories in a book at the end of 2020. Each week a prompt will be given as the theme for the week.

Week 15: Fire

This week I’ve chosen to write about my own experience of fire. The following is a repost of a post that was published in July 2018, as part of a memoir series. There have been a few changes and additions made to the original post.


It was an unusually warm day in August 1988, when I left the house to collect the children from their primary school, about 2 kilometers from our house. On the way to the school, two fire trucks passed me, going the opposite way. I thought nothing of it, as it wasn’t at all unusual to see them around town, with their sirens blaring and lights flashing. As I was waiting at school for the children, I was surprised to see one of our employees walking towards the car. He didn’t have children at the school, and I was a bit perplexed as to why he would be there during working hours. As I soon found out, he was trying to find me, amongst all the mums there doing school pickup. From that moment on, the ordinary world of our ordinary family was changed by an extraordinary event.

Our employeed had come to give me the news that our house had burned down. How could that be? I had just left? Everything was ok before I walked out the door, only 15 minutes ago. We didn’t live in an old weatherboard house that would burn easy. Our house was a new modern brick veneer house. How could that possibly burn? These were all the questions running through my brain in the confusion of not understanding what had happened. However, as was the fashion in the 1980s, much of our house was lined with pine boards, so once the fire started, it burnt very quickly, with no chance of distinguishing it. I found out later that the two fire trucks that had passed me, were going to our house, and by the time they arrived, they could do nothing, except stop the fire spreading to the neighbours houses.

We went immediately to my parents house. I was conscious that I must not panic. I must keep everything as normal as possible for my three children, who had lost all their possessions in the fire. At this stage they didn’t know this and I was aware of how upsetting that news would be to them.

We all went to see the house the next day. I couldn’t believe that all that was standing were the exterior walls. Nothing was saved. As we searched through the ashes we found a couple of pieces of my jewellery. That was all.

I didn’t really care about the ‘stuff’ that we had lost. All I could think of was how thankful I was that nobody was home at the time the fire broke out. Investigators told us that the fire was caused by electrical wiring which had been faulty at the time of construction. The fire started in a bedroom. I was terrifed to hear that it was probably sizzling away quietly for days until that fateful day, when I opened the front door, to leave. That door was opposite the bedroom. The fire burning slowly inside the walls, was probably almost ready to seriously burn, when I opened the front door to leave. The air that came through the open front door caused instantaneous burning almost like an explosion, even though I heard nothing as I left. When I was told all this, my only thoughts were how lucky we were that the fire didn’t ignite while we were all in bed asleep. There could have been a much different outcome.

We stayed with my parents for a week, before finding temporary accommodation that wasn’t really ideal. The children were quite stressed and upset about losing their things and they showed their stress in different ways. On the day after the fire, I took Craig, who was 11 at the time, to the shop to buy an icecream as a treat, to take his mind off things. All the way there, he talked happily about which icecream he was going to have. When told they didn’t have that particular icecream, he threw the biggest tantrum I’ve ever seen any child of any age throw. It was just the last straw for him. I was too upset at seeing Craig’s hurt, to explain to the shopkeeper why this child of eleven was throwing a tantrum worthy of a two year old, over an icecream. This boy was normally a very calm, and placid child. But I could see that he felt totally out of control of what had happened to him, and just lost the plot.

We were very fortunate to not need help from anyone to get back on our feet. We were fully insured and had a successful business that was able to support us, and provide us with anything we needed, before the insurance settlement. I do, and did realise that things could have been much worse than they were. But I couldn’t help feeling that I had lost control over my normal very controlled life. Looking back, I could say we had quite a lucky and happy life up until this point. This was my first feeling of loss of control and it upset me very much.  It took me about seven years to get over that feeling of loss of control.

Three months after the fire, we moved into a beautiful house, on two acres, that we had purchased, just a few kilometres out of town. This house and the area was a fantastic place to bring up our children over the next few years. Because we were so happy there, I really can’t feel sad about the house fire, even though sadness and feelings of loss, impacted my life for the next few years.

The things that were lost in the fire that I missed weren’t the expensive furniture or jewellery or the latest fashions hanging in my wardrobe. I felt dreadful that a book that was published in the 1880s, and was give to me by my great grandmother was lost. My grandfather’s watch, that was left to me in his will was gone. It wasn’t an expensive watch, but it was quite old and I felt bad that it had been lost while I was meant to be looking after it, as he obviously expected that I would. I found it very easy to replace most of my clothes, but I really missed the old, half worn out closthes such as trackies and comfy jeans. It just didn’t feel right doing the gardening in new clothes.

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From → Family stories

  1. A terrifying experience but so glad you all came out unscathed

    • Sorry I didn’t reply to your comment Anne. I found it today in spam. I have no idea why. But thanks for visiting and commenting.

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