If your house caught fire when you're not there

Let’s say that you aren’t at home (at work, or maybe even on vacation for a week or two) and your house catches fire. A neighbour notices, and calls the fire department. The firefighters break in your door and extinguish the fire before there’s too much damage. None of the neighbours know how to contact you.

Now what? Would they just leave your house with its busted down door? Board up the door? Go through your stuff to try to find a way to contact you?

Police deal with a similar problem, when they are called to a house break-in, and the homeowner doesn’t get home by the time they have to leave.

Here in Minneapolis, the police will call someone from a list they have of carpenters who will come out (even in the middle of the night) and board up windows, do temporary fixes to doors, etc. They leave a bill for the homeowner or their insurance company to pay. (Often, they will also make a bid on doing whatever permenant repairs are needed. I expect they get a lot of business that way.)

When I was a volunteer firefighter in Minnesota, we were required to notify the town building inspector everytime we had a structure fire. He then had to determine if the house was still fit to be occupied. If the homeowner was not present, he had access to property deeds, or whatever, and could usually contact someone.

I have nothing to add, just want to say this is creepy … I thought of the exact same question this morning when I was halfway to work and realized I’d left the house with the clothes-dryer running (something I NEVER do because I’m so afraid of a housefire).


Not a fire, but a busted fire-sprinkler pipe in DesertWife’s small book store. It was in what once was the payroll office of a former cannery, turned into lofts, so you had to enter the foyer to get access to the front door of the book store. Anyway, it looked like the door had been kicked open – no axe marks or anything like that but the frame was splintered on the inside. When the waterline was secured, they closed the door and drove about six three-inch powerscrews through the door into the frame. That was early Saturday morning and we were out of town for the weekend, so we didn’t find out about it until late Sunday evening. Took about fifteen minutes with a hand screwdriver to get in, reasonably secure, I thought as loft denizens pass through the foyer quite frequently and everyone knew each other.


We actually had this exact thing happen over 4th of July weekend, to a house at the end of the block I live on. By the time a neighbor noticed and the local volunteer fire department got there, the structure was fully engulfed in flames. The only thing they could do, after ascertaining that there was no one inside, was to (fortunately, successfully) prevent the spread to anything else. Nobody knew where the owner was; presumably he found out when he eventually came “home.” We all wondered if it was arson for insurance purposes, but nope – the owner had no insurance!!! The house had been built by his father and the mortgage paid off years & years ago, and the current owner didn’t think insurance was necessary.

It remains a blackened ruin, with the chimney and part of the brick walls remaining. A week or so after the fire someone ringed the area with yellow police tape as a token indication that it was not safe to rummage through; other than that it is the same now as in July. We have heard a rumor that the property was sold, but we don’t know for sure.

What used to worry me is what would happen if my home burned down while at work, with all my insurance papers. I didn’t even remember what my insurance company was!

Of course, it only worried me until I remembered to write down my insurance company info and take it to work.

For that very reason, it’s better to keep such things in a safety deposit box at your bank.

Once when I was living the UK, my (now) wife and I went on holiday. We drove all day and then “realised” we’d left a pot boiling on the stove. We were hours drive away. Our flatmate wasn’t home. We were in a complete shit ourselves panic. We phoned every friend we could think of that lived anywhere nearby and none were home. We ended up calling the local police. They went round and could observe through the kitchen window that the stove was off.

Luckily, Bobbies are unable to slap you over the phone.

I was away for the weekend a few years ago and when I came back to my apartment on Sunday night, the door was… sort-of shut. The door casing was almost completely splintered off the wall on the latch side. The hinge side of the wooden door was cracked, too. Everything seemed ok inside, we didn’t notice anything missing, but I called the cops to report it anyway.

The dispatcher put me on hold, called the fire department, then came back to say, “yeah, sorry, someone in your building called the fire department and said they smelled propane, so they had to search all the apartments for a leak. They couldn’t get ahold of your landlord for keys, so they had to break your door.”
I said “And they just left it open? Anybody could have gotten in and taken anything they liked!”
The dispatcher said “You’ll have to talk to them about that.” and basically hung up on me. I called the fire department, but all they would say was that it was standard procedure, and they had called and left a message with my lanlord saying that the door was damaged and needed to be secured. As my landlord was quite the slumlord, it was nearly a week before I was able to bully him into fixing it to be usable (but still cracked in several places).

Anyway, that’s what Montpelier VT does, as of a couple of years ago. And no, I didn’t even have any propane or anything that ran on propane in my apartment. There was also a heroin dealer who lived upstairs, and there were always strangers tromping through the hallway to get up to his place.
The woman who called about the propane also had a boyfriend who called the FD about 6 months later to report a fire when I was broiling steaks. When the fireman confirmed that was what it was (he had to awkwardly tromp through my very small apartment in full kit and look at the oven to make sure it wasn’t on fire) he then went up to the neighbor’s apartment and asked why he had called. They guy just said “It smelled like cookin’! I knew that wasn’t right!”
sigh I don’t miss that place (or those people!) at all.

Oh, and the door had been like that since Saturday evening.

Actually, it was most likely forced open with a halligan bar