Life | Personal Stories | Article

A fire wiped out everything I owned and left me with lessons I will never forget

by Ooi May Sim | 16 Nov 2021 | 5 mins read

Four years ago, Tracy Dela Cruz, a member of The Simple Sum family lost everything she owned in a fire that ravaged her neighbourhood. She was living in the Philippines with her family at the time.  

So, what do you do when everything you own is taken from you in an instant? This is her story… 

 

It was an uneventful Tuesday. I got back from work, had dinner with my family then got ready for bed. I was tired from all the meetings at work. “Tomorrow will be a better day,” I told myself.

As my family and I were sleeping, we were awoken by shouts. It was about two- or three-o’clock in the morning and I was feeling half-awake when my brother rushed into my room and told me there was a fire behind our house. 

“We need to get out. Pack your bags!” he said.  

Thankfully all my important documents were in a drawer, so I dashed towards it and grabbed everything that was inside. I managed to chuck my college diplomas, camera, passport, and money into a backpack.  

As I was doing this, I could hear my neighbours screaming. From what they said, I knew the fire was getting closer and I was scared there would be an explosion from the gas tank people use to cooked with. I ran out of my room to look for my parents and our dogs.  

I yelled for them, and we all ran out of the house. It happened so fast.  

Where I lived in the Philippines, the houses are packed and congested. Many of the houses there were made of wood, so the fire spread quickly.  

We were lucky no one was hurt.  

I was able to save the items in my backpack and our dogs, but nothing else. At that moment, all you can think about is to just get out of your house. During a critical situation, you automatically know what is essential to you.  

After the fire, we were homeless. But we were lucky because our other family members took us in. After over a week of searching, we found a house to live in. 

During this time, I realised how little is needed to actually survive. We just needed a warm bed, food and some clothes. Everything else is a bonus.  

Because everything happened so quickly, we didn’t really have time to mourn over the fire incident. We focused on surviving and were always busy doing one thing after another, rebuilding our lives, and looking for a new house, furniture and clothes.  

It was only after a week that the realisation that we had lost our home sunk in.  

We went to the mall to get some underwear and clothes and stopped at a restaurant for lunch. There, a waiter announced a promotion very loudly, startling me. I panicked and started crying. Loudly.  

My father got angry and scolded the waiter. It was all very dramatic. When the waiter and manager found out what had happened to us, they came over to apologise, although it wasn’t their fault.  

Later, we found out from a news article that the fire started at a house with no electricity. A family had lit a candle and forgot about it. There were even rumours that the house was a drug den. 

Either way, the houses in my neighbourhood – along with ours – were burnt to the grown, leaving 2,000 people, or around 400 families homeless. 

I now know what matters most

Although we didn’t have diamonds or many valuables, my mother and I had some gold jewellery that we didn’t manage to save. But surprisingly, we weren’t really sad about that.  

My dad was very upset about losing a set of speakers that had sentimental value to him – while he was working abroad, he invested in the speakers, and since then, it has always been close at hand, until the fire ‘snatched’ it away from him.  

For me, I regret not taking our family albums and photos. Whenever people come to our house, they usually like looking at old photos, and pictures of my siblings and I when we were babies. Now, we have nothing to show them and no pictures to look back on as these are old photos that had no digital copies.  

I guess you realise it is ‘unvaluable’ things like this that are truly priceless.  

After losing everything I owned, I now have a better understanding of what is really important. I know that material things don’t matter so I have less attachment to material things now.  

Now, whenever I buy stuff, I follow the one in one out concept. That means I always get rid of stuff before buying new items. I also can also try wearing one shirt in many different ways to increase its mileage. Overall, I am more mindful of my spending.  

We were lucky because after that, a lot of blessings came our way. Many people came forward to help my family, from other family members to friends and even strangers. So, I believe that sometimes, when something is taken, something else will be given.  

Last October, my family finished rebuilding the house, on our plot of land where the fire took place. And this time we are getting – fire insurance!