• The Photo Organizers

The House Fire: Realizing the Value of Family Photos

2016 marked a 20-year anniversary that I did not celebrate. In 1996 my husband (then fiancé) and I had a fire in our house.

We were young and living in our first home. It was a very small house, less than 500 square ft on the main level with a sloped roof second story with two very small bedrooms and a bathroom.

One day after making supper, we took our dog for a walk and went to Gramma’s house. I answered the phone at her house and the caller asked, “Does one of the Boll boys still own that house on the corner of town?”

“Yes.” I answered curiously, knowing that was my house.

“It’s on fire.”

The caller never identified themselves to me. At the same time my husband’s cell phone rang. It was the neighbor calling to tell us that our house was on fire.

We borrowed Gramma’s car and drove to our house. A crowd was gathering, and the firemen were trying to hook up to the water supply. After a while I noticed that I had forgotten to put on my shoes!

There are no words to describe the horror of watching smoke billow from your house and seeing flames through the window.

Eventually the fire was stopped. It had started in the kitchen from a short in the back of the stove. The kitchen was destroyed from the waist up. The rest of the house suffered severe smoke and water damage. The house had been so hot that water dripped down the walls leaving sooty trails behind. Everything was covered in black soot.

The smell inside the house was awful. When you think of a fire you imagine the smoky scent of a campfire, but a house fire is different. The smell of burning paint, plastic, and other household items does not leave you with a pleasant memory.

And then…

It always seems to get worse before it gets better.

Our house was boarded up for the night and we stayed at Gramma’s. The next morning, we discovered that our house had been looted. People broke in and stole our smoke damaged belongings.

In the end, we were lucky.

Most of our home had survived. Most of our belongings were still there. Severely damaged, but there. Since we were young we did not have many photo albums, and although they were smoke damaged they survived quite well. The photos in frames around the house were not as lucky. The pictures melted to the glass and were ruined by the heat and humidity.

We lost some treasured possessions but came through the ordeal safe and with a new understanding of how precious our photos and memorabilia were to us.

My advice to you is to back up your photos off site. If you house is destroyed, you can lose everything. It’s also much easier to complete an insurance claim when you have records of your belongings. Take photos of the inside of your closets and cupboards.

I’m lucky this happened early in my adult life. I have learned some valuable lessons and I hope that our precious memories and photos will be safe, no matter what the future may bring.

We would love to hear your stories about how you have either saved photos from a fire or how you safeguard your photos from fire.  Please share in the comments below.

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We also invite you to visit our sister blog The Photo Organizers for more tips and in-depth knowledge from some of the top photo organizing industry professionals.

To find a photo organizer near you, visit the Association of Personal Photo Organizers.

Alice Boll of Scrapbook Wonderland

Alice Boll is married and has two teenage sons that work their hardest to be complete opposites of each other. She loves swimming and spends her summers coaching swim club. For the other 8 months of the year, also known as winter in Canada, she’s curled up by a cozy fire enjoying her favourite activity, scrapbooking, eh! You can find Alice sharing tips, tricks and techniques at  Let Alice show you how to share your memories in a creative way!


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