A few weekends ago, on a rainy Saturday afternoon, the fire alarm rang in my apartment.
I was dressed typically for me on a rainy Saturday, which is a step up from still being in my pajamas, although an admittedly small step.
In this case: fleece pants, a faded tank top, and merino wool lumberjack socks, with my hair, inasmuch as my dreads are always “done” since they don’t really change, hanging lank down my back from an earlier shower rather than pulled back or pinned up as I normally wear it.
Needless to say, I hadn’t been planning to go outside anytime soon, let alone to stand huddled amongst my neighbours while my building potentially burned to the ground.
And my building has had a fire in during the time I’ve lived here … the very night I moved in, no less.
It happened around 9:00PM, almost two years ago: I came around the corner carrying the last of my possessions from my old place to find, to my horror, fire trucks up and down the street, which was awash with water and fire suppression foam, and lined along the sidewalk with spectators from mine both and surrounding buildings.
The blaze, thankfully localized within my building (and thankfully nowhere near my unit), was caused by excessive dust in an air exchanger in the laundry room, which caught and burned a portion of the ceiling.
Rescue me my WIP
Despite this, I didn’t believe this most recent fire alarm signified a real fire, or at least not one large enough to destroy the building.
The walls of my building are paper-thin, so I often hear smoke detectors going off around me; no doubt a consequence of my living in a smoking building – perhaps one of Vancouver’s last remaining, wherein, as a result, almost EVERYONE (myself excluded) smokes.
Plus, I live in Vancouver, so cigarettes aren’t the only thing folk are smoking all up in here.
Hearing that Saturday fire alarm, I suspected someone had let their ciggy or bud burn a little too long to the point that their smoke detector activated the central alarm.
However, the prudent part of me (that small portion of the prudent part which hadn’t been stupefied by a rainy Saturday afternoon) said it wouldn’t hurt to grab a few belongings to take outside with me, just in case.
After a few flustered moments, I took:
- My wallet
- My external hard drive
- My USB drive
- My sunglasses
My rationale being to save:
- My ID and credit cards
- My WIP (plus everything else on my computer, but foremost my WIP and all other writing-related files)
- A second backup for my WIP and other writing-related files
- My eyes (my sunglasses are prescription and were monstrously expensive (largely through my own vanity), and I don’t start a new insurance cycle until next year
I was right about there not being a fire. Rather, an issue with the exhaust vent on a dryer causing it to vent inward instead of outside had set off the building’s heat detector.
That said, I do fully expect some careless smoker to level this place some day (hopefully long after I’ve moved on). Having now experienced a fire alarm has got me thinking about what I’d want to save in a real fire.
Fires tend to happen at a moment’s notice, leaving no time to be standing around wracking one’s brain. Hence I’ve made a series of lists of my most valuable possessions and the relative importance of rescuing them if time and my ability to carry things is limited.
Unsurprising, many of these items are writing-related:
- Laptop (including power cord)
- External hard drive
- Reference books for my WIP (the books themselves are easily replaced, but all my highlighting, marginal notes, and flagged pages would be years of lost historical research)
- Reference notebooks for my WIP (bound books I’ve made from photocopied pages of numerous other reference books, complete with more highlighting, marginal notes, and flagged pages)
- Bed-side WIP idea notepad
- WIP idea notepad in my purse
- Financial documents
- Favourite writing how-to book (again, with highlighting, marginalia, and marked pages)
- Folder of photocopied favourite writing how-to articles
- Bike and helmet
- Guitar (even though I rarely play anymore)
- Guitar music, including the one song I wrote (even though it’s nothing special)
- Dictionary (it contains archaic words plus entries in the English of the Commonwealth, the US, India, and South Africa)
- Thesaurus (it contains slang, colloquialisms, and synonymies)
- Harmon/Kardon speakers
- CD collection
- Sound+Sound machine
I’m super-paranoid about losing writing-related possessions to disaster, for I’m reminded of historical fiction writer Sharon Kay Penman, who had a completed manuscript stolen from her car.
As this happened in the 1970s during the pre-electronic, pre-digital backup era, Penman was forced to rewrite the entire novel.
Were I to lose my WIP, I don’t know that I could rewrite it, it’s so much a product of who I am right now and what I have to say at this very moment.
In any case, I certainly don’t want to put a rewrite from nothing to the test, my attention to disasters instead being that of prevention and preparation rather than mitigation.
What would you try to save from a house fire? Writers, do you worry about your work being lost? How do you prevent this from happening? Let me know in the comments.