What do you take if your house is on fire?

photo by mollypop

Last week you all gave me lots of good advice in the comments about Preparing for Emergencies.  I had focused mainly on storing supplies in case we were without water or electricity.  But what if there was a fire or a hurricane, and we had to evacuate quickly?

Stephenie suggested a “grab and go box” for important papers you would want to take with you.

Marta agreed and shared this helpful list for what we might want to take.

I’ve kept this idea on my Projects-I-Should-Do-Sometime list for a long time.  This is the month I will be more prepared, so it’s time to figure out what I should take in an easy-to-grab bag.

My plan so far:

  1. If there is no time, don’t worry about any of it, and just try to make sure Lane and Doug are safe.
  2. If I have a minute, I think I would reach for my keys, my purse (with my mobile phone in it) and my MacBook.
  3. If I have two minutes, I would reach for the Go bag.
  4. If I have five minutes, I would also take a painting that Doug and I bought for our anniversary.

Packing the Go bag:

I need to include necessary things like cash, papers, and a change of clothes for each person.  I also want to include sentimental things like Lane’s hospital hat and two of our trip journals.  

  • Papers and documents should be sealed in a plastic bag to protect from water.  A list of addresses and phone numbers would be good to add.
  • Computer backup disks could be in the bag, but additional copies should be located away from home.
  • For any valuables, I’d only carry what is small and light, like jewelry.

Doug surprised me by mentioning different things from what I thought he would want to save, so I’m glad we talked about it.  We should also plan where we could meet, like Karen suggested. 

This reminds me that laying out clothes is not simply a good habit at night, but it would also be helpful for emergencies.  I’d want to find my shoes easily, and not trip over anything.

Ok, what am I missing?  What would you take with you?

About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. in the go bag, must to include following docs:
    1) insurance papers
    2) identity proof of all the members and latest photographs
    3) some bills to prove what all you own
    4) money – yes

    One thing that I learned from my experience from 2005, one thing that one can do, get all your important documents scanned, like property papers, insurance papers, certficates ansd degrees, identity proofs. Keep them at 2- 3 distributed locations, like keep them in your email accounts, in google docs, with your relatives/friends you can trust. These documents will help you later, even if emergency strucks instantly.

    But I really wish we all never have to face any such thing. Its bad, terribly bad :(

  2. I agree with Pooja. Creating a Household Inventory can be time consuming but invaluable when/if you ever need it. My husband and I moved into our first home in April 2006. In May 2006 our home was hit by lightning. Luckily it was nothing serious but afterwards we reflected on what we had learnt from the experience and how we could have handled things more efficiently. The most important thing we are working on now is a Household Inventory. Like you said, the first priority is to get out, but if your Inventory/scanned information is on a cd in your water proof bag, or a copy with family/friends you can save yourself a lot of insurance problems afterwards. Here is an article I found very helpful on creating a Household Inventory. http://www.thesimpledollar.com/2008/03/11/the-whys-and-how-of-a-household-inventory/

  3. We have a safe, supposedly water and fire proof, that I keep our marriage license, birth certificates, savings bonds and extra checks in. I also keep the disc w/ our wedding pictures on it, and a couple of other back up discs in there. If we have time, ideally, we would grab it as opposed to just assuming it will survive. I realize I need to put copies of our insurance policies in there now.

    Aside from that, our small file box which contains the years financial stuff and our cat, it’s hard to think what I would grab. I’m one of those people who can form an emotional attachment to a gum wrapper, so everything seems important. I’d probably grab as many of my boxes from the bedroom as I could. Boxes with my childhood scrapbooks, a few stuffed animals, and the box with all my husbands notes, letters and drawings. And the quilt my grandmother made by hand for me.

  4. I’d get all of my loved ones out of the house first and then I’d make sure I took Baby Charlie, my beloved stuffed dog (well, previously stuffed – he’s now flat.) I’ve slept with him since I was two and I honestly don’t know what I’d do without him. Everything else is replaceable.

  5. I have a folder with all of our important papers. I also stashed my copied cd of pics as well. If we lost all of the pics, camera etc we would have no copies of my precious pictures. I also keep a small copy of my video film.

  6. We lived through an apartment fire two years ago. When it happened, my husband and I each grabbed a sleeping child, and then I grabbed my portable file box, my jewelry box and most importantly, our dirty laundry baskets! We actually had about 3 minutes to think before we ran out the door and I was so thankful to have extra clothes as we weren’t able to return to the apartment for a week. The fire didn’t reach our apartment but everything in our home was smoke damaged and had to be professionally cleaned. :(

    On the up side, our couch looked really great after it was cleaned!

  7. Its so funny to see you posting on this subject because I did alot of preparing in July and blogged about it. I see some new good ideas that I might add to what I have already. We don’t live in a natural disaster prone area either, but there are always things that you could have never thought of to disrupt your normal lives.
    I thought it was a good idea to have food, water, and other emergency supplies for 5 days or so in the house along with a big backpack (Go Bag) with bare necessities for all five of our family members. With three small children we would have to carry their stuff too, so it can’t be a ton of stuff or very heavy. I also packed a smaller bag for my husband’s commute vehicle in case he was stranded overnight. A bivy sack, first aid kit, bottle of water, energy bars, flashlight, photos of the rest of the family (in case he needed to report us as missing), extra batteries, etc. were some of the things I put in that bag. The meeting places is an important thing as well as having cash ready. We rely so much on our modern conveniences to survive now, we have to think of what we would do if they were not available!
    Happy Preparing!

  8. No “go bag” for me. Just the kids and I’m out. We keep DVD copies of all our photos and our important paperwork, etc. in a fire proof safe! We’ll get it all once the dust settles.

  9. ah yes…the fire proof safe. That appeals to me. I would like and am now considering a serious safe that is…well….seriously safe. These things seem easy to put off but very very important if ever needed….I would like to thank those people sharing stories about when they did need this kind of preparedness……tough times, I admire your toughness and strength….thanks.

  10. I lived through a house fire in 1994 which demolished our home. It was 3am, and the house was already in flames when I evacuated with my 3 year old daughter. I did not have time to get my purse, let alone a fire safe box which turned out to burn anyway. Get a small steel safe, it’s worth the money. You cannot imagine how difficult it is to start over again getting birth certificates, bank information, a driver’s license when you have absolutely nothing to start with. Thankfully my Mom knew someone who worked in the public records office to expedite the process or it would have been heaven knows when that we’d been able to get access to our own money in the bank.

    There are 2 things that I sincerely wish I had. One is the afghan my grandmother crocheted for me, and I wouldn’t have grabbed it anyway in my list of “Top 3″ things. Oddly enough, the other is one or two of my yearbooks from high school. I saved all my first love letters inside them, as well as missing all the printed content and personal notes from classmates inside. Ironically I didn’t even like high school all that much.

    Sorry for the ramble. In short, don’t stop at a fire safe box if you can at all afford a small safe and what you will “miss” is highly subjective and for the most part unpredictable until after the fact.

  11. Fabulous topic!

    I have a reminder setup in Remember the Milk to take pictures in 1 room each month and add it to a private photo inventory in an online photo gallery. As long as you keep the photos private for your security, you’ll feel good knowing you can access them from anywhere.

    I always keep my purse close (with keys, cell phone and charger, flash drive with important stuff encrypted, and child ID kit) and make sure it’s put back it’s spot at night that I can grab on the way out of my bedroom in case of an emergency. I started putting my laptop bag there too. Dunno if I’d grab it though. Would have enough to lug with children and purse.

    The go bag is on my “to do” list now.

  12. I have to admit that I haven’t really thought through these types of situations. I always hope for the best!

    We don’t live in an area where we could be faced with a hurricane evacuation anymore, but certainly a fire could happen anywhere.

    Do you have an extinguisher, better yet, if you have one do you know how to use it?

  13. apieceofwood says:

    We were recently talking about getting a fireproof safe! But me and hubby first and the dogs and then anything else I could grab. Good topic!

  14. First and foremost – would be my loved ones – my wife and kids.
    Then: Car keys, wallet, laptop, cell phone.
    Then: Small fireproof safe with important documents.

    We have a plan established to meet at the mailbox. If that doesn’t work for whatever reason, then the plan is the neighbors house across the street.

    This is good stuff to think about. You hope it something you never have to do. But if you do, it’s great to be prepared ahead of time.

  15. The photos! The scrapbooks!

  16. Photos! Photos!

  17. Looks to me like your best bet is to have important papers and small heirlooms locked inside a fireproof safe (if there is such a thing — do they actually work?) and have a set of copies stored off the premises.

    Then with that taken care of: out the door or window as fast as you can go! The only things you should try to get out of a burning building are yourself and your loved ones.

  18. I feel like I say this a lot — but these comments are amazing. Thanks for taking the time to write about your thoughts and experiences. I learn so much from all of you.

  19. My important documents box and my lap top. That is the extent to which I allow myself to think about it.


  20. Having been in a fire, we grabbed our sleeping children, the dog, and our keys. I should have also taken my purse, and my husband would have liked his wallet, because we had no money, ID, licenses, or cell phone. However, in the case of a fire (we live on the fourth floor of a walk-up apartment building) you really need to just get your loved ones out safe. Everything else is pretty replaceable. Our apartment was actually damage free, but as we drove away that night (we had to go to my mom’s as there was no place for us to stay) it was surprising what I was sad about possibly losing, and they were things that I would not be able to take.

  21. Christine says:

    I’ve been thinking about this myself. I am wondering if an encrypted flash drive (aka thumb drive, usb drive) would work as well for copies of key documents and photos. Some of you mentioned using a DVD or CD. The USB drive would easily fit on the key chain or attach to a purse, backpack, etc with a key ring.

  22. Since I live in a fire prone area, (I’ve evacuated twice) its important to be organized. When the Cedar Fire hit in 2003, my DH was out of town, so it was me and the kids. I loaded the car with whatever my brain could think to bring. Honestly, all I know is that I got the computer hard drive, my two Peanuts and some paperwork. I didn’t get the fire safes because I thought they were too heavy and should survive anyways. Turns out that not many of those safes made it through the fire. Luckily my house was okay.
    When the Witch Creek Fire hit last year, my DH was in town, so we packed things up together. We had 2 cars to load so we ran through the house grabbing things, while I took pictures of every room, closet and cabinet (open of course, for insurance purposes). Again, our neighborhood was spared.
    So now, I have an emergency list in the hall that I can grab and start packing things. Most important, of course are my kids. After that, insurance paperwork, ID cards, SS cards, PRESCRIPTION MEDICATION (!!! VERY IMPORTANT!!), the computer hard drive and the fire safes. After that, scrap books, clothes, personal things, my cookbook. (A friend who lost her home in the Witch Creek Fire said she wished she’d grabbed her cookbook.)
    I should say that I have an earthquake kit with essentials (food, radio, batteries etc) and we always have water on hand.
    Just a note, Costco sells an emergency food pack with about 2 weeks supply. Not gourmet, but would get you through.

  23. The usual and also the quilt my grandmother made for me using pieces of dresses worn by my great-grandmother, grandmother and mother. It’s priceless.

  24. Well of course if you know me,
    The computer, my family photos, wallet/purse, pets, clothes and that all cause you need money you need clothes your pets are family members you can’t replace pictures and the comuter i love!

  25. my purse/wallet, pets, cellphone, family photos and clothes cause you need a purse for money and your pets are part of your family members you also need a cellphone to call somone for help.
    you can’t replace your family photos and also you need clothes for some accations!

  26. Our meeting place is the family van (all 10 of us have assigned seats). We have a safe deposit box at our bank – now to get the important copies there – the bank personnel know me by sight.

  27. I love this topic!

    1. I’d first grab the kitty and if I had time, try to force her into her carrier, but if time was not available, I’d grab a blanket and wrap her in it.
    2. I’d also make sure my boyfriend was safe.
    3. I’d grab my purse.
    4. If there was time, I’d grab the box with important paperwork in it.
    5. Then I’d throw a bag together of clothes and a couple sentimental items.

    My boyfriend and I keep meaning to get a fireproof safe to put all of our documents in there that we wouldn’t want to lose. That way if there was a fire, we could focus on making sure each other and the cat were safe. :)