Posted by: E (The Third Glance) | November 10, 2013


Yesterday afternoon, I arrived at home to find the smoke alarm blaring, and the apartment full of smoke and smelling like something is burning. My roommate? Nowhere to be found. I walked in and go “What burned?” and she scuttled out of her bedroom and said “oh, just some oil, I was cooking and left the burner on and the oil…”

The apartment was full of smoke
The fire alarm was blaring
It smelled like something was still burning
It was super hot
No windows were open
No fans were on
And oh yeah, lets add that I am utterly and completely terrified of fire.

*Cue panic attack*

Now I’ll skip to the punch line – no one was hurt, nothing was permanently damaged, we got everything cleaned up and cleared out, and the sprinklers didn’t go off (phew!). By the time I arrived, the fire was out, and all that remained was getting the massive amounts of smoke out of the apartment. But the thing is, I don’t do well with fire. I managed to think clearly enough to lock my terrified cat in my bedroom with my windows open and fan going (there was smoke in there too, and I was worried about him and smoke inhalation), open all the doors and windows in the apartment, and call maintenance to get them to come out and inspect and make sure I wasn’t missing anything, and we got the smoke mostly out.

But the thing is, I’m terrified of fire. I describe my fear of fire as irrational. Not because I think being scared of fire is irrational, but the degree to which I am terrified of fire, and my response to fire (real, imagined, past, present, future, fictional, in movies/books or real life), is not particularly rational. I am terrified of fire in the sense of “has recurring nightmares of being stuck in a burning house and not able to get out” terrified. It is “when the fire alarm goes off, I spend the next several hours curled up in a ball shaking” terrified. I’ve written about this before – about how horrible fire drills and fire alarms are for me, and this is a perfect example of that. Last night, after we got everything cleared out and there was no more smoke or smoke smell, I spent the next 4 hours shaking.

I know fire is dangerous, and I believe that a fear of fire, especially housefire, is rational and healthy. I know it can burn me or my life/house/cat. I know the risks involved. But my response to fire or anything fire related goes well beyond what most people ever express (obviously, I don’t know how they feel inside). I manage this fear, though, by being extremely careful whenever I’m in a situation that might start a fire. I never use candles. I never leave the kitchen while cooking. I always double check that the oven and stove are off before I leave the house or go to bed. I check electrical sockets, and make sure lamps aren’t too close to things that can ignite. I know how to put out fires, too. I know how to extinguish different kinds of fires. I have a fire extinguisher, and I know how to use it. I have a giant emergency bag of baking soda in case smothering a grease/oil fire with the pot lid doesn’t work. I know not to throw water on an oil fire. I know to turn off the burner or the oven if there is a fire, so that its heat source goes away. I know I have done everything I can do to prevent fires from destroying me. But that doesn’t mean I’m not terrified of them. It means I’ve taken control over my situation in a way that I feel doesn’t majorly disrupt my life, but that allows me to be prepared in the case of an emergency.

My roommate*, however, didn’t know any of this stuff. She never learned it from her parents, she never figured it out. So last night, she and I have a good chat about kitchen safety. She knows all of the fire safety tips, and where the supplies are, so that something like this never happens again. She now knows to NEVER leave the kitchen while cooking, and to turn off burners when she’s done with them. She knows where the fans are, and she knows how to shut my bedroom door with the cat inside if she needs to open our front door to air out the apartment. I feel bad for her, she was pretty scared when it happened, and she was really down on herself about how she’s a terrible cook and has no experience. She moved here from China, and it’s her first time living as an adult on her own. She’s always lived in a dorm with a meal plan, or with her mother. I’m glad that she’s learning, and I feel bad that she never had this sort of instruction growing up. And I don’t think she’ll make this mistake again.

And in the mean time, I’m just going to continue to take deep breaths and tell myself that it will be ok. And know that at least she’s aware of how to put out a fire like this if it ever happens again.


*For those of you who have been following me recently, you’ll know my roommate and I are completely incompatible, and that I’m literally counting down the days until I can move into an apartment by myself. I won’t go into details here, but it’s not pretty and we’ll leave it at that.


  1. I’m so sorry. I hope you get rid of that roommate soon!

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