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Catholic Spiritual Direction

House on fire!

June 5, 2012 by  
Filed under General

House on Fire!

I was just sitting at my desk and heard a sudden slam and then a roaring rotary sound coming from the ceiling above me like a vacuum cleaner pressed on a hard wooden floor. Then came a rush of billowing smoke from the air conditioner vents above my head. My son was above me! My heart was pounding as I ran up to the third floor to check on Jordan… not home. Then I ran to be sure no one else was home. Then, standing  away from where the fire was growing I called 911. After an incredulous four transfers, I spoke with someone who finally dispatched the fire department.

The smoke continued to pour out the vents on the middle floor as I was quickly trying to determine what to grab. First, my personal laptop, then, my work laptop. My mind is racing. What will we need to keep going if the house burns down? Then, I grabbed my wallet and then my battered copy of Liturgy of the Hours. Then, my briefcase and my passport. A quick glance around to see how quickly the house was filling with smoke and then down to the first floor and outside of the house. I set all the things down on a table in the back yard.

I circled the house checking the roof on all sides. Then I went back in to see if I could get more important things but my motivation was low. I was just thinking about how to be strategic about the limited time I had. I thought about my wife’s icon of the Last Supper. I decided to go back up and look around to see if I could find the source of the fire to determine how much time I might have. By now it appeared that the billowing from the vents was slowing down and the loud whirring grinding sound had stopped.

I could hear the fire trucks in the distance and breathed a sigh of relief. I also noticed that though the smoke was still hanging around and that it didn’t smell like smoke.

The fire trucks arrived and did a thorough search – nothing. Their theory is that the air conditioning system in the attic was malfunctioning. What a relief! Even so, I am still shaky from the initial adrenaline rush of worry about my son on the top floor.

Looking back on my own feelings about the situation is curious. For the most part, other than my prayer book, I had no instinct to preserve anything sentimental. Once I knew my son was ok, I was only thinking about the practical implications of losing our home and how I could keep working and mitigate the damage. The computers were a logical choice. I had no instinct or motivation to carry anything else out as I waited for the firemen.

It is also fascinating to note (at least in my mind) that I just returned from Dallas where I offered a one-day retreat for an exemplary group of Catholic lay leaders. We ended the session with a discussion about appetites, desires, attachments, and the common love of created things that can displace our love for God and inhibit our growth to a deeper relationship with Him.

What would you take if your house caught on fire and you only had a few minutes to breathe (and you knew everyone was safe)?

PS: God is good. Lord have mercy on those who’s homes were really on fire.

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About Dan Burke

Dan is the founder of Catholic Spiritual Direction, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, and author of the award winning book, Navigating the Interior Life - Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God. Beyond his “contagious” love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN’s National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN’s Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

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  • New Name

    Wow!  Thank God you are OK…and also that your family and belongings survived.

    Hmmm.  Interesting question.  I know Bibles and the LIturgy of the Hours can be replaced (did you grab all four volumes?).  I would take old family pictures (irreplaceable) and personal files/records/documents/wallet, computer would be good, too (same reason–for starting over), and maybe throw a rosary around my neck!  If I didn’t think the Bibles and Hours could be replaced, I would grab them, too.  That’s about it.

    A woman in our parish did have her house burn down when she was little.  At her daughter’s First Communion, her daughter wore the only thing (other than the people) that survived:  the mother’s First Communion veil. 

    • Becky313

      I get goose bumps when I hear stories like this of religious things surviving disasters.

    • Dan Burke

      I only grabbed the one volume that was in an an old rustic leather cover that I switch from one to the other as I use them throughout the year. I didn’t even think about the other three volumes.

      • New Name

        Grabbing all four volumes would be difficult for me to do as well.  I keep the current one on my nightstand, taking it with me if I need it during a particular hour.  The rest are in our “home office” room in another part of the house.

        • Dan Burke

          Yes – you realize very quickly is that you only have two hands…

  • Becky313

    My Dad taught us to make what he called a ‘portable office’.  It was a briefcase that had all the families’ important documents and things in it.  I now keep things in a fire-proof safe….although I could not pick that up and get it out the door.  I would get my purse, prescription medications, and then my religious and sentimental items as time allowed.

    Our house actually did catch on fire when I was a teenager.  We lost a lot of pictures and things that were stored in the attic…. there was more damage due to smoke and water than the fire.

    Look at how detached you are…….happy to hear all is well.

    • Dan Burke

      Funny thing – I can’t survive but a short while without medication – didn’t even think of it… I think that my mind was detached from logic. I doubt it has anything to do with true detachment. It is very difficult to think straight when you think your home is on fire.

      • New Name

        You’re right.  It is hard to think straight in an emergency.  That’s why it’s important for all of us to develop good habits of doing the right thing.  What we practice in our day to day lives strengthens our moral muscle and makes us more resilient to the temptations and emergencies of life.

        BTW, Dan, meds can be replaced, too!  Ha!  Pharmacists and doctors can be very understanding with this kind of thing.  They would, of course, have seen the story of the fire on the news!

    • New Name

      Fireboxes work well, too…and they have the added advantage of being portable. 

  • Pingback: House on fire! | Catholic Canada

  • JRKH

    I actually did lose a house to fire – and early on Christmas morning of all times…
    First thing I grabbed (after my pants) was my guitar.  The wife grabbed photo albums…My son grabbed one each present from under the tree.  We didn’t have time to go back for more…I didn’t work from home so things like that were not an issue.  We lost a lot of precious things that day, but but they were just “things”.  We gained though too. 
    We learned how quickly family, friends, neighbors – and even people you never knew – come out and offer to help.  Clothes, toiletries and various other very practical things begin to show up not to mention offers to help rebuild….
    People are amazing.

  • Sandy

    What a frightening experience this must have been for you!  Neither my husband or I would be prepared if our house was on fire.  I would probably be like you and grab the laptop and my purse which has my prayer books in it.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose everything and start all over.  Your story makes me realize all the more that it is relationships that are important, not things.  I’m happy that your house didn’t burn down.

  • Mary@42

    Thank God, all ended well. Now Dan and Becky, what do you think this old gal would grab if she had just a few minutes to rush out of her small Maisonette???? Well, Becky, you guessed right……The Divine Mercy Image, the Holy Jerusalem Rosary  and the Immaculate Mother Mary’s Statue  all on the Prayer Table at my little Office,  my beloved Laptop, the Funeral Photos of my Husband, Son, Father and Mother from the Cupboard…..then run down the stairs and take the Large Divine Mercy Image at the Entrance of the House and the Crucifix on top…….the vital medicines and the rest can be replaced.  But especially these two Divine Mercy Images, solemnly blessed on the 15th April, 2012 Divine Mercy Feast are the most precious possessions I have……..oooh, I know what you will say, Becky…….confused old lady you sure are!!!!!

  • Deborahaguiar

    Like Becky, we also have a fireproof safe for important documents. I would have to grab my picture album and my laptop as that has the rest of my pictures on it. Also, my children’s communion crosses, my confirmation cross, and my grandmother’s engagement ring. Their baptismal crosses were stolen in a burgulary and I know that was the only thing that was stolen that truly got to me so it is an easy decision.

  • Zahid Sindhi


  • JoFlemings

    Dan! Thank God you are all alright and this was no worse. ( I can’t imagine what I would take from my house since I think it would be a relief if the whole maintenance housekeeping nightmare went up in smoke as long as my kids were ok, just getting them out would probably be all any of us could do anyway-(I think I was originally intended for low maintenance cave in the desert, but …) I know this is so not spiritual, but I am just hoping you can have some kind of inspection to make sure whatever it was is really over.

  • Hugsfromheaven33

    It’s so fascinating to watch God’s works in action, and how He wants us so badly to make our way back to Heaven. Because even when the families that go through something like this or any other kind of suffering/tragedy, the people that come out to offer help, clothes, supplies etc. are passing their own test with God. So He can see if His people are truly clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, and so on! God is so KIND and LOVING and GOOD to us!

  • Cecilia A. Marks

    We live in California. The first time we were presented w/the possibility of  packing and leaving from a fire storm, we gathered children, pet, photos, a financial folder, a prayer tote into our van and waited.  Nothing else seemed important.  Years later w/ the entire community now being engulfed in smoke and w/the strong possibility all would be lost. We were to be in a religious conference in another state the following day and decided to stay w/our plans.  We prayed, blessed the house and property w/blessed salt, asked St. Michael to hold back the fire from the entire community and boarded the plane. The airport was later closed due to smoke. When we returned home a week later, our adult children had gathered all our icons, photos, financial files in to the living room ready to be taken at a moment’s notice.  The  fire, indeed, had been confined to the foothills much to the surprise of the firefighters who had expected the worse at the dawn’s light.

  • timesoftrouble

    Wow. Sometimes God gives us meditations we are not looking through the unexpected events of our lives. I see other analogies to this story such as being diagnosed with a terminal illness. These things make us cut to the core of our priorities and what is truly meaningful and important. Great meditation for the day! Thanks!

    • New Name


      You’re so right.  There are many other analogies.  The terminal illness is a good one to think about. 

      Another one is when fleeing a domestic abuse situation, becoming a refugee, when one has to move parent(s) out of the home they’ve been in for ages, when one is faced with a natural disaster such as a tsunami, tornado, hurricane, etc. 

      We’re much better off in all situations when we trust in God and rely on him to smooth out the hills and valleys for us.  He comes through time and time again in the usual ways and in new and innovative ways as well.  But we, too, must be faithful to his Word and thankful, prayerful and praiseful.  Jesus is the friend who takes the first step with us and for us.  So too, to be friends of God we must walk in his footsteps and walk in his Way.

      “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”  Proverbs 3:5-6.

  • timesoftrouble

    Come to think of it Dan, on a larger scale, this is how big disasterous earth events can wake people out of their stupor and cut to the core of the meaning of life.

  • New Name

     Great testimony Cecilia.  Thanks for sharing.

  • judeen

     house on fire.. was sick for a year.. in bed most of the time… I read of a saint who wanted their heart burn for Jesus and Jesus heart burn for her.. so this is what I prayed.. behind all my work.. house needed cleaning new drapes, floor, so on.. I needed help… too. i woke.. the dog woke me upset.. I got up.. but she was looking up.. the stairs the house on fire. a blaze came from the picture which wasnt on fire. but all around it was.. it shot 20ft. or more like a torch – when .. my son in bed I yelled to get up.. smoke thick and fire now all around. I was using a pail of water to get it out. then , my son who was so rebellious. nasty , disrespectful said. hug me… what?!! HE SAID  I dont care if we are both piles of ashes I need you to hug me now!  so I did.. with flames all around us. I hugged Him… love is forever

  • judeen

    when I was a kid. 6 I think I had a dream of our farm house was on fire.. I rode up on a white horse. and ran in the house to save my mom and dad. then instead of thanking me.. they wanted me to run in the house so on fire.. it was unsafe.. but I loved them and I did… and brought out the tv for them then walked away and rode my horse away…
      I never forgot that dream etched in my mind… I prayed over both parents before they died… dad wanted a preist and could not find 1 so we prayed for 1 = I think he saw 1 and he shock his head up and down and then looked at me then to the ceiling… mom.. I prayed long for her.. she was out….. as I touched her I cryed and prayed.. the pain so deep.. was my faith the white horse? and the fire life. and praying for them safty?  is love more important than life? does it matter if anyone loves you back? is our faith how we get there to help others?

  • New Name

     Love never ends!

  • judeen

    the power of protection from God works with tornadoes, hurricans. even from the heat.. asked for a cloud to cover the sun , to hot to work out side. very little clouds.. but in minutes a huge cloud covered the sun.. did this several times.. know a person who asked for rain  to stop for a picnic.. it stopped where they were having a picinic,, rained all around them when done it rained…