True Story: My house burned down + I lost 90% of my belongings

How would your life change if your house burned down? What if you lost almost everything you owned in one afternoon? Click through for one woman's store of how she dealt and what she learned >>
How would your life change if your house burned down? What if you lost almost everything you owned in one afternoon? That’s what happened to Alison and her son last January. This is her story.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Alison. I’m a 41 year-old single mom of a 7 year-old boy living in Boulder, Colorado. I work as a massage therapist, yoga teacher, and embodiment coach. I love to spend time in outdoors and I hike and bike as often as I can. I also enjoy road trips, camping, hot springs, yoga and meditation, dancing, farmer’s markets, writing, good food and drink, and socializing with friends.   

What was your house like? 

After years waiting, we received approval in September 2015 to move into a small duplex that we’d always dreamed of renting. It’s located in a safe, quiet neighborhood and I put all my energy into making it beautiful. When the fire happened, we’d only been for for a few months.

How did you find out your house was on fire?

On January 14, 2016, I did some laundry and then left home to attend a few meetings and to pick up my son from school.  Before leaving, I pulled my massage sheets out of the dryer and put them in a laundry basket, intending to fold them when I returned.

I returned around 4:00 pm to the sound of a smoke alarm. I could see billows of black smoke pouring out of my kitchen.  In a panic, I called 911.

What was the fire department’s response? 

The fire and police department both arrived within 10 minutes.  It’s all a bit of a blur, but I do remember the police officers staying with me until the fire was out and the fire chief arrived.  I felt that they were my advocates during that process and kept me informed and comfortable.  

What did you and your son do after the firefighters left?

A  friend brought us something to eat. We literally just sat in front of our charred home and cried in disbelief.

That friend invited my son and I to spend the night at her house. I never fell asleep that night; the unknown was so horrifying and unsettling and I just did not know what was ahead for me.  I will always remember lying in my friend’s living room on that air mattress with my son sleeping next to me.

How much did you lose in the fire?

Between the fire and smoke damage, we lost about 90% of our belongings. We were out of our home for six weeks while it was gutted and remodeled.

Walk us through the month after the fire. 

Unbeknownst to me, on the night of the fire, my friends and family worked together to gather resources and support for us. The day after the fire, a neighbor helped pack up all my damaged possessions and put them in one of his storage spaces until I had the time and energy to go through them.  People filtered in and out bearing food, hugs, clothes, toys, and extra hands to help out.  

That whole month was transformative. Of course, there was a lot to process emotionally but I came back to gratitude again and again. Gratitude for being alive; gratitude for the community that supported me.

family whose house burned down

Were you able to save anything? What did you lose that you miss the most?

I saved important things like pictures, some meaningful books, and a couple of pieces of furniture that I aired out and used a special solvent to remove the smell of toxic smoke.

I would say the biggest pieces that I am missing are some of my beloved juicer and, as frivolous as this sounds, my shoes!  I love shoes and had some fun ones.   

Do you know what caused the fire?

The fire started in my laundry basket.  Little did I know when I ran out of the house to pick up my son that the laundry basket, situated in a sunny spot of my kitchen, was the perfect container to create spontaneous combustion with the residue of massage oil on the clean sheets.

You’ve had to rebuild your life from scratch in a lot of ways. Are things different this time around?

This ordeal was life-altering on so many levels and I’ll never be the same. The incredible outpouring of support I received from my community was humbling and restorative. This experience shook me to my core and people rallied around me in a way that made me feel, accepted, supported, and loved.  

Now that I have a bit of distance, I realize this really impacted my appreciation for the preciousness of life.  Before the fire I was more focused on the superficial, outer manifestations of myself (like my belongings). Now I’m grateful and inspired, focusing on my son and our life together.

What did you learn from this that any of us could apply to our daily lives?

Appreciate the many moments of goodness in your life. Reach out to others for help when you need it; you will be surprised at the generosity of others. Get renters’ insurance!  (I did not if you can believe it, but I certainly do now!)

Thank you so much for sharing your story, Alison. Do you guys have any questions for her? Have any of you experienced something similar?

P.S. Other stories of survival – True Story: I was inside a tornado and True Story: I survived Hurricane Katrina

photo by ian dick // cc

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  1. L

    This happened to my best friend a couple of years ago. In addition to all of her stuff she lost a friend/roommate (sorry, not trying to play the Tragedy Olympics here!). I was really affected just helping her out with it and I still think about walking through her house the morning after the fire when I smell smoke in the air, I can’t imagine experiencing it with your own belongings. It’s amazing how an experience like that haunts you for a long, long time.

    • Alison Rothman

      Wow, I am so so sorry to hear about your friend and that tragedy! I cannot even imagine…We were so lucky to have not been home when it started and I count my blessings every single day. Yes, the imprint still remains and the preciousness of life is always at the forefront of everything I do. Thank you for sharing your story. ~Alison

    • Anonymous


    • David damm

      My house burned down over 2 weeks be ilost everything. Execpt what I was wearing I lived there for over 35 years I don’t know what to do know help

  2. Grace mcgov

    Hi my name is Grace and I’m 13 years old and on November 23th 2016 my house burned down it’s now April 23rd and we have yet to get back in and won’t until the earliest would be June. My family was safe and we did lose almost everything but I’ve learned a lot about life and what most people take for granted.

  3. S

    My house burnt down in December of 2017. I came out with 2 things: a jacket, and pants. That’s it. I could have almost died, considering my roof collapsed on my bed 5 minutes after I woke up and left.

  4. Jasmine

    Hi everyone. I am 17 years old, and it is day 2 of being out of the house. My apartment caught fire and everything is gone, not only do I miss my things but I, more than anything, want to feel at home and I want to be at home in my bed and that isn’t possible. I am not sure how to cope with everything in order to help my family.

    • Mariam

      Dear Jasmin,
      I know exactly how you feel. More than anything I missed my bed and just having a place to call home. My home burned down on March 8, 2020.
      I’m still reeling from the loss of all my belongings, obsessively asking myself ‘what if?’ I cried for one month straight until I watched an episode of Oprah. On that episode she says not to focus on the what ifs but to say what now? I have a whole new outlook on life and I take nothing for granted. We will overcome this Jasmin, we just have to be patient and tread along. Xoxo

  5. Carmen

    It’s been just over 2 years since my house fire. I was at work and my kids 17 and 9 (at the time) we’re home alone. My dad had just dropped my son off at home with my older daughter, knowing I’d be home in about an hour. It was approximately 8:00 p.m. I was closing up at work when I got the phone call. I grabbed my purse and called my parents as I locked the gate and took off to my car. My mom said my dad had just got home from dropping of my son and they would go back to my house. They could get there faster than I could and I still was in shock and running on autopilot. I called my boss and my boyfriend on my way and my boyfriend convinced me to stop at his house (also on the way) to let him drive me home. I was crying hysterically and it was a 30 minute drive. By the time I got to my house, the flames were out but the heat and the smoke were still overwhelming. I don’t even know how many different area fire departments were on scene but there were several. My kids and my dog made it safely out of the house but we unfortunately lost our cat to smoke inhalation. One of the firefighters saw a file folder in my kitchen and set it on the porch. The corners of it were smolderdered and ashy, but unknown to him, he had saved our birth certificates and social security cards as well as the title to my daughter’s car. Insurance took care of the “stuff” and I consider us lucky in some ways that my kids were safe. I’m grateful for what I still have and try not to dwell on the things I don’t. After 9 months of rebuilding and living with my parents, we were able to move back in our home. I don’t allow candles. I always triple check that the oven is off and the stove and any curling irons or anything else that’s preventable in starting another fire. I have four fire extinguishers around the house. I still have moments of panic if I smell smoke from neighbors having a bonfire or burning leaves. I don’t think that will ever go away. Once you live through it, it’s a part of you.

  6. Tina Burnett

    My name I Tina Burnett,
    My home burnt down in Jan 2014. Sadly I lost everything , including my pets, Ellie and Moses. I don’t know if there is anything I can do besides beg Allstate to reopen this case. I did not burn my house down. That was all me and my daughter had . Plz, this has been life altering for me. Nothing and I mean nothing will ever be the same . Plz, I said over and over to put me on a polygraph machine. You’ll see I did not do this to my pets and my daughter !! Two other girls were there and I now know one DID set this fire to destroy me. Help me ?! Wilbur Gordon from Allstate , I did not do this !!! I have got to unshame my name ! My daughters deserves what she lost !

    • Mariam

      Praying for you Tina. I can relate after my home burned down and my brother in law and his bitch wife kept saying don’t you care about us (they live beneath us). Like I purposely set fire to my part of the home. Some people are so ignorant, yes I mean you Gordon!

  7. Anonymous

    nice story and I hope this never happens to you agian

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