In Case of Fire

Have you heard of the blog The Burning House created by photographer Foster Huntington? Over a year ago, I stumbled across a post on Apartment Therapy that asked:

“If your house was burning down, what would you save?”

This led me to Foster’s blog which showcases photographs submitted by people of the belongings they would hope (and try) to save in the event their home caught on fire.

Upon initial reflection, it’s easy to name many things I would try and save: books, favorite items of clothing, out-of-print DVDs, my favorite armchair, some warm boots… Then after a bit more thought, I tried to be realistic and narrow it down to things that were more irreplaceable. Within a few days, I took and submitted my own photograph to the blog, showing some of my most treasured things — and my pups, of course. (Fry isn’t included because Jonathan and I agreed he was his responsibility if we woke up to flames engulfing us; this image is just my stuff.)

Stacy Johnstone Burning House items

I sent in the photo, and visited Foster’s site every so often to see if it appeared. It never did. A bit bummed, I actually forgot about it until recently when a similar question got posed somewhere and it sparked my curiosity. I revisited the blog and in doing so honed in on one of the earliest entries submitted by Sandra Belanger (who had experienced a house fire before) in which she writes: Word to all the folks with big piles of stuff: You have way less time than you think.

After a year, looking back at the photo I sent in, I realized I wasn’t entirely happy with what I had chosen. Putting aside the fact that I think it’s a poorly set up photograph, keeping Sandra’s words in mind, I felt inspired to take another picture — a better one! — in which I was truly more selective about what I picked.

While some of the items would still be there (my journals, important documents, and the painting Jonathan made for me our first month together), I knew everything else were just things — ones that, while mostly irreplaceable, didn’t necessarily enhance my sense of being.

On the fence about whether to submit another photo, I browsed the more recent submissions on the site. Then I came upon a post where Foster said he had published a book, released just last month, with pictures from his site.

Clicking on the link, I went to Amazon and started looking at the book. I flipped through the “Look Inside” pages then — there it was: my photo in the middle of the book on a two-page spread!

As you can imagine I was fairly stunned and purchased the book immediately.  After a bit of research, I learned that my photo was one of 50 that had been saved as “exclusives” for the book. How exciting is that? Needless to say I can’t take and submit a new photo now. ;)

Here’s the “in case of fire” list of belongings I would have saved at the time, as it appears in the book:

  • Passport
  • Original birth certificate
  • ID
  • Wallet
  • 5 hand-written journals
  • Brown bomber jacket from Paris
  • TOMS shoes (or whatever slip-ons were closest to the door)
  • Yellow and black heart painting from my boyfriend
  • “Kicking Puppies” – original Justin Hillgrove watercolor
  • “Blue Elephant” mosaic – handmade from scrap glass and a wine bottle by my best friend
  • Cellphone
  • Old Chimney Farm canvas bag to carry everything
  • Crocheted quilt that my mom made for my grandmother
  • My dogs, Peekay and Ennis

So tell me, I absolutely must know: What would you save?

(Top image: “Burning House” — an art installation by Clint Alexander and Emily Sloan Alexander in East Texas, July 2006; via Flickr)

3 thoughts on “In Case of Fire

  1. I thought so much about this recently, what with the fires ranging in Southern CA (and last month, in Northern CA)… and it left me pretty stunted. So overwhelming to be faced with a choice between all your belongings, yet so freeing to come to realize that in an instant, there really isn’t much we would NEED.

    For me…
    Pets (1 dog & 2 cats)
    Birth & Marriage Certificates
    (2) Personal Journals
    (2) Quilts Made by my Mom
    Handmade (still in progress) cross-stitch
    2007 3rd generation (RED) iPod Nano
    Artisan, handwoven basket to carry above items


  2. This is totally one of the most exciting things to happen. Also, Kim, not that I wouldn’t pick my birth certificate and passport also, but I have actually lost both of these things and they are pretty easily replaceable. I for one, have no idea what I’m saving, except some old family photos. It’s one of the few questions where I remain a blissfully ignorant American a–hole.


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