Sometimes, a house or other building is central to a story. Usually it is the residence of the protagonist or antagonist. It may have a significant history, either special or sinister. It may even carry a family curse. By living there, a character may be unknowingly tying themselves to the past, or to their old ways.
Then that building is burnt down, destroying those memories of the past with it.
The huge material loss suffered by the owner of the house is generally peripheral to the story, with the real point of the trope being that the fire symbolizes letting go of the things from the past that were tied to the house, and being able to finally embrace the future.
One or more characters, dead or alive, may be burnt along with the house. A villainous or deranged character who lights such a fire is likely to perish in this way - perhaps with the hero trying unsuccessfully to save them.
This trope is almost always an Ending Trope, as it gives an effective close to the story and symbolically lays the past to rest. Tends toward a Bittersweet Ending. It is used particularly in Gothic Literature.
Simply having a previously unmentioned or unimportant house burn down is not sufficient for this trope. Examples should make clear the value of the building and/or the significance of the fire, to avoid being considered a Zero-Context Example.
Related to, but distinct from, Kill It with Fire and Fire Purifies, which are about fire as a weapon for killing. Also related to Burn Baby Burn, which is about burning smaller significant objects. See also It's All Junk. Destroy the Abusive Home is a subtrope of this which has a character destroying the home or other place where they or a loved one were put through hell. Where I Was Born and Razed is about a character pulling this trope (and maybe even expanding it into a whole Doomed Hometown) For the Evulz.
- The Elric brothers' Origins Arc in Fullmetal Alchemist ends with them burning down their late mother's home where they grew up before they go out on a quest to get back Al's body (which was lost in an attempt to resurrect their mom in that very house). They say it's so they won't ever be tempted to turn back from the goal they've set. Hohenheim doesn't agree with this line of thinking and says they really did it so they wouldn't have to face their mistakes, comparing the act to a child trying to burn the evidence of their soiled bedsheets after wetting the bed. Ed's attempted response isn't very convincing to either his dad or the audience.
- This type of ending was used at least more than once in the 1988 anime Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics. The Bluebeard episode ended this way, and Hansel & Gretel had the witch's house getting struck by lightning and burning down, and the kids reunited with their father the next day.
- The finale of Hell Girl's first season ends with Ai Enma burning a temple down because she has come to forgive its builder for betraying her centuries ago.
- JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Phantom Blood: Johnathan's house burning down marks the end of the first arc, and the Genre Shift from Glamorous Manly Victorian Melodrama to Glamorous Manly Supernatural Horror-Adventure.
- Kenshin does this in the flashback sections of Rurouni Kenshin (adapted as the Trust & Betrayal OVA) burning down the house where he lived with his first wife Tomoe until her Heroic Sacrifice to double as both a funeral pyre for her and to emphasize his recommitting to his role as an assassin.
- At almost-not-quite the end of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Alfred burns down Wayne Manor so that nobody can look through it for evidence or clues after Batman's identity as Bruce Wayne is revealed to the public while faking his death.
- Eric Draven burns down his old house during the events of The Crow just before going out on his Roaring Rampage of Revenge against Dollar Bill and his gang.
- Prince of Persia: The Graphic Novel ends its 9th-century storyline with the usurper burning down the royal palace with himself rather than surrender it to Prince Guiv. Much of the 13th-century storyline is set in the ruins of this palace.
- In the final Punisher Max arc "Homeless", after the death of Frank, Nick Fury takes a flamethrower to the house where the Castle family used to live and where Frank had been staying during the events of the arc. By doing so he hopes to put an end to the tragedy that made The Punisher once and for all.
- Artemis's Liege has Rogue doing this and Destroy the Abusive Home (because of Mystique's manipulations) in order to prove to herself that she's moving on and leaving the past behind.
- This, along with Destroy the Abusive Home, occurs in Kiryuuin Chronicles, when a mentally ill Ragyo, after dealing with years of her husband's abuse throughout their marriage, along with the memories and psychological damage thereof, in a fit of pent up rage burns their house down, destroying the house and killing him (whether or not she killed him in the fire or before she started to torch the house is never said).
Satsuki: The house held those years of abuse and she wanted it all to burn but, more importantly, she wanted to destroy him along with it. She was forced to marry him and he had beaten her, battered her, used and abused her and she wanted to destroy the house, her memories, and him, releasing those years of pent-up rage and pain.
- Whenever the Shinra mansion is mentioned, half the time it will (or already has) go up in flames. This trope is inevitable when half the cast has negative experiences with one building.
- Kung Fu Panda 2. Lord Shen is so determined to kill Po, the legendary warrior who is prophesized to defeat him, he orders his cannon to open fire on his own palace. This isn't just Pragmatic Villainy but is related to Shen's issues with his parents, foreshadowed when Shen has his father's throne tossed out the window of the palace, then puts a cannon in its place. In the end, Shen's failure to let go of the past is what defeats him.
Lord Shen: You were wrong, soothsayer. We sail to victory tonight. Your magic panda is clearly a fool.Soothsayer: Are you certain it is the panda who is a fool? You just destroyed your ancestral home, Shen!Lord Shen: A trivial sacrifice... (plunges spear into a brazier of burning coals, uses it to set fire to a map of China) ...when all of China is my reward!
- In the film Andersonville after the defeat of the Raiders their base was burned, symbolic of the end of their reign of terror.
- In Batman Begins, the film's Darkest Hour is when Ra's al Ghul incapacitates Bruce Wayne, then sets Wayne Manor on fire and leaves Bruce to die there. Continuing his father's legacy (in this case, making Gotham a better, safer city) is one of Bruce's major motivations. Bruce is convinced at that moment that he's completely ruined Dad's legacy, and the destruction of his father's house is a very concrete representation of that.
- Battle For Sevastopol. The sniper instructors make the female trainees burn all feminine articles in their possession—from clothes to personal items—to show them they need to toughen up for the war they're about to fight.
- Braindead ends this way, presumably destroying the remaining zombies.
- The ending of Citizen Kane is a loose example, differing only in that the whole house isn't burnt but the namesake of "Rosebud": Kane's childhood sled.
- Django Unchained: Ends with Django and his wife leaving an exploding slave plantation, on horseback determined to live a free life.
- I Dream In Another Language: During the last half hour, Evaristo sets Isauros (Who used to be his friend fifty years ago) house ablaze so as to make sure he can scrub every trace of him and their Love Triangle with Maria from his life.
- At the end of Intruders, Anna performs a Reusable Lighter Toss on the house (which had earlier been soaked in gasoline) that represents all of the traumas of the past. She watches it start to burn and then turns around and walks off into the night.
- In Kingdom of Heaven, Balian burns down his house and smithery when he kills his priest brother in rage for decapitating his wifes corpse. His wife had committed suicide after the death of their baby. With his home gone and as a wanted man, Balian joins his father and leaves for Jerusalem. The soundtrack that plays as the house burns is named Burning the Past.
- A rare positive example in 1929 film Linda. Linda's husband, the backwoods logger Decker, has died. Rather than let someone else muck up the little cabin that Decker loved so much, Linda decides to send it up to him in heaven. So she sets it on fire and watches it burn as the movie ends.
- Subverted in Memento. The protagonist suffers from a condition that prevents him from forming long-term memories. He says the last thing he remembers is his wife dying during a home invasion robbery, which prevents him from moving on from her death. In an effort to do so he's shown burning some photos of her and personal articles, but it's to little effect as he doesn't remember this for long either.
- The Nest: Goyita demands that Alejandro demonstrate his love for her by destroying all of his late wife's possessions. He hesitates, but when she says she won't see him anymore if he doesn't do it, he gives in. Alejandro gathers up all his wife's stuff and burns it in the courtyard of his home.
- Office Space: Milton burns down the Initech building in revenge for the company's shabby treatment of him, in the process destroying Peter's letter of confession about embezzling money from the company. Everyone just assumes the arsonist was also the embezzler (and he does end up with the money in any case), and Peter gets off scot-free... and finds a new job in the field of construction, where one of his projects is cleaning up the remains of the building.
- At the end of Psycho IV: The Beginning, Norman Bates burns down his mother's old house, the place where all his unhappiness began. In a variation, he is nearly trapped inside, signifying his own difficulty in escaping his past.
- The Red Lanterns: Anna's dreams of escaping a life of prostitution are crushed when her young lover Angelos dumps her. She comes back to the brothel, lights a cigarette, pulls out a picture of the two of them on a date, then uses the lighter to burn the picture.
- The James Bond film Skyfall has the titular manor burning down during the ending battle (with, of course, lots of explosions and such). This is very symbolic, as Bond has linked it throughout the movie with his childhood, and certain... psychological baggage he's carried with him from there.
Bond: [As Skyfall burns down] I always hated this place.
- In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, one of the reasons why the disillusioned Luke Skywalker goes to Atch-To is to destroy the first Jedi Temple, believing that for all of their failures, it's time for the Jedi Order to end. After his will to do so falters, however, the Force-ghost of Yoda appears and summons a lightning bolt that splits the temple in half. He then tells Luke that it's time to stop dwelling on the past and ensure that the spirit of the Jedi Order survives.
- In Time Bandits, the family home burns down at the end. Shortly after the parents pick up the rock of evil that was found in the wreckage and both disintegrate, leaving the boy an orphan.
- In What About Bob?, Dr. Leo Marvin's lakeside vacation house in New Hampshire is a symbol of his financial success at the cost of strained relationships with just about everyone. (His daughter calls the trip there "another vacation that isn't a vacation", and his neighbors—the Gutmans—hate Dr. Marvin because they were saving up to buy that house.) In the end, Dr. Marvin tries to kill Bob with explosives but ends up burning down the house instead. This is the straw that finally breaks Dr. Marvin, and in the next scene, he's more or less catatonic. And in the next scene, Bob unintentionally shocks Dr. Marvin back into full consciousness. Whether or not Dr. Marvin learned anything from the ordeal is an open question.
- Done at the end of What's Eating Gilbert Grape. The protagonists light the house on fire to burn along with their deceased morbidly obese mother who is on the top floor, as this is the only way to dispose of her body without public humiliation. In this case, the fire symbolises protection.
- Near the end of the 1997 TV film of The Woman in White, Marian accidentally knocks over a lamp and sets fire to the church where her father was buried, trapping and killing Glyde and Sir Percival.
- In the Greg Egan story "Border Guards", humanity has been effectively immortal for thousands of years; Living Forever Is Awesome, but when people feel like they're stuck in a rut, they burn their houses and vanish without warning to start a new life elsewhere.
- Unusually for this trope, The Dresden Files employs it smack in the middle of Changes. Harry's much-loved apartment is razed, with much of his possessions inside. To add insult to injury, he damages his spine while trying to help his elderly landlady, and is left paralyzed from the waist down. This leads to him accepting Mab's offer to become the Winter Knight, which in turn causes him to arrange his own murder at the end of the novel. The symbolism remains, though. It tells the reader that this book pulls no punches, and will live up to its name-Nothing Is the Same Anymore.
- Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Fall of the House of Usher" ends this way, and the curse of the Usher family is brought to closure through the destruction of the house, as well as the protagonist's best friend.
- Mr. Rochester's first wife sets his house ablaze at the end of Jane Eyre - and the shame of his dark secret (her existence) is burned along with it.
- At the end of Monstrous Regiment, the Boarding School of Horrors is burned down by two of those who'd been through it.
- Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca ends with the Creepy Housekeeper Mrs. Danvers going over the edge and setting Manderley on fire. All that symbolically remains of Rebecca is burned down along with the house. In some adaptations, Mrs. Danvers also burns.
- At the end of "Reflections on the Winter of my Soul", Kane sets the manor he has spent the story in on fire along with all the dead bodies inside and reflects on the life that he could have had — at least for a while.
- The haunted hotel in The Shining burns up and dissolves into nothingness.
- Tobacco Road ends with the squalid house burning down with Jeeter and Ada and everything they had, from a fire set by Jeeter to clear out the fields for planting. This was dropped from the play.
- In Traitor Queen king Aren burns in a symbolic gesture the house on Midwatch that he shared with his wife Lara and where her betrayal came to light. The fact that it was used by enemy soldiers for almost a year and it shows probably helps him make that decision.
- Toward the end of the Warrior Cats book Rising Storm, a dry summer and young humans messing around results in a forest fire, badly burning ThunderClan's territory, including their camp. Three of the Clan are killed in the fire, and while they do return, it takes a long time to recover and rebuild.
- An episode of Arrested Development ends with Michael and his son, George Michael burning down the family banana stand while they watched as a means of putting the days where they miserably had to work there behind. Their father is not pleased because he had hidden a secret stock of cash in there and the two of them failed to find it.
- Subverted in Batwoman (2019). Mouse wants Alice to give up her revenge against her family and flee Gotham so they can be happy elsewhere. So Alice burns the copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland that represents all the trauma they suffered as children. Then it turns out Alice has poisoned Mouse because her revenge is part of who she is, and even her love for Mouse isn't enough.
- In Boardwalk Empire, when Nucky's father's ill health forces him to move out of the house his son grew up in, it's given away for free to one of Nucky's associates who's starting a family. The man is incredibly grateful and has the place renovated, but when Nucky visits the place to see if a new paint job will help him forget the years of brutal abuse his father gave him, he douses the empty house in turpentine and throws in a match, handing a wad of cash to the astonished new owner as he walks away.
- In the backstory of the Doctor Who episode "Ghost Light", Ace, mourning the death of her best friend in a fire, burned a local haunted mansion to the ground. She's less than pleased to find that the Doctor has taken her back in time to that same mansion to find out why it frightened her so.
- In the Enemy at the Door episode "No Quarter Given", a character's house and business are confiscated by the German occupying forces, and the woman he loves is killed by a drunken SS soldier, whose superior shelters him from prosecution. At the end of the episode, he decides to make a break for England and burns the house down as a parting gesture.
- In Gilmore Girls, Lorelai raised her daughter at the Independence Inn for ten years while working there as a maid. Even though they had moved into their own home before the series started, they remained attached to it. It burned down at the end of season three when Lorelai was moving forward buying her own inn with her friend Sookie and her daughter Rory was heading off to college. It signaled a transition in their lives to more serious endeavors.
- Aunt Marie's Airstream in Grimm.
- The Handmaid's Tale: The trauma of being beaten by Fred, losing her finger at his hands and giving away Nichole so that she can have a better life culminates in Serena burning the Waterford house down.
- In-universe example: in Just Shoot Me! this is how Dennis' student film The Burning House ends.
- The adaptation miniseries of the appropriately named Little Fires Everywhere reveals the burned home in the first scene, then the rest of the show explores How We Got Here: the Richardson kids burned down the house to reject their mother's smothering parenting and twisted value system, particularly her increasingly abusive relationship with Izzy.
- M*A*S*H: Psychiatrist Sidney Freedman convinces Col. Potter to let the camp make a bonfire, burning many non-essential items which represent the stifling Army lifestyle. "You have to let them go crazy once in a while to keep from going crazy." Freedman himself tosses his fatigues into the blaze.
- Coincidentally, just before the final episode was filmed the MASH set burned down.
- In the season 3 finale of Nikita, Division (the central location of the show up to that point) is destroyed.
- In the Riverdale first season finale, Cheryl burns the family mansion in hopes of breaking from the past, as her mother protests to no effect.
- Following the death of her last surviving family member in The Vampire Diaries Elena Gilbert burns down their family home, describing how the various items she destroys belonged to the various loved ones she had lost. It's less a matter of the past no longer controlling her and more her grief that she longer has anything remaining of her past life. She even leaves Jeremy's body to burn in the fire, planning to use "death by tragic fire" as a more plausible explanation than the real cause.
- The second season of The Walking Dead ends with the barn of walkers being burned during the attack on the farm.
- The prison, which is the main base for the group from the beginning of Season 3, burns down during the battle in the Season 4 mid-season finale, and the group are separated as they are forced to flee.
- An earlier season 4 episode has The Governor burn down Woodbury.
- "Burning House" by Cam, a 2015 hit that metaphorically used a burning house to symbolize the end of a relationship; a young woman therein has a dream that her now ex-boyfriend was trapped inside a burning house and she goes to save him, only for both of them to be killed in the flames.
- The entire plot of Shawn Colvin's single "Sunny Came Home". However, the eponymous Sunny is not intent on doing away with her past, but rather her future.
- The version of "Samson and Delilah" recorded by Shirley Manson for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles invokes this, as "If I had my way, I'd tear this old building down" specifically changes to the last part to "I'd burn this whole building down".
- "Independence Day" by Martina McBride. A strange triplicate example of this trope, Kill It with Fire, and Driven to Suicide, as the song is about escaping an abusive husband by burning down the house while the wife is in it with him.
- P!nk's "Funhouse" is about her burning down the house she shared with her abusive boyfriend/husband.
- "Blown Away" by Carrie Underwood plays with the idea. The house isn't destroyed by a fire, but by a tornado. The protagonist of the song takes shelter from the tornado while letting her abusive father stay passed out on the couch without trying to wake him up, resulting in the house being destroyed and her father dying via Murder by Inaction.
- "One More Minute" by "Weird Al" Yankovic contains the verse "So I pulled your name out of my Rolodex / And I tore all your pictures in two / And I burned down the malt shop where we used to go / Just because it reminds me of you".
- In one of The 11th Hour's three endings, Stauf Mansion burns to the ground, which unfortunately also results in the death of Robin.
- At the end of 5 Days a Stranger, the mansion as well as the recently re-animated body of the then-unnamed DeFoe child is burnt down, freeing those that had been trapped within. Except for AJ and Philip Harty, who were dead before the fire started.
- In Baldurs Gate: Dark Alliance II, the Ghost of House Felldane asks you to destroy Firewind Manor, in order to hide the evidence of the depravity his descendants have succumbed to. Serendipitously, the manor burns to the ground not long after during a dragon attack, fulfilling the ghost's wishes.
- BioShock: When the government threatened to nationalize a forest he owned, Andrew Ryan burned it down. This was part of his motivation for planning to secede from the world.
- One of the end-goals of the Institute in Fallout 4 is to destroy all traces of the pre-war United States, to pave the way for their own new order.
- Five Nights at Freddy's does this twice.
- Five Nights at Freddy's 3 has Fazbear's Fright — a horror attraction based off of the unsolved mysteries of the Freddy Fazbear's Pizza — that contains several old relics from the pizzeria's history end up burning to the ground, likely caused by faulty wiring.
- Freddy Fazbear's Pizzeria Simulator has its Golden Ending burn down the latest establishment with all of the haunted animatronics burning, too. This brings an end to serial killer William Afton and his daughter, as well finally putting to rest the souls of the murdered children haunting the original animatronics. As well as the owner of the current establishment, who is implied to have been William Afton's son and the security guy from previous games. The fire was done on purpose, for this very reason.
- At the end of God of War: Ascension, Kratos turns his house into a funeral pyre for Orkos.
- At the end of Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned, Johnny and his fellow gang members burn down the gang's clubhouse. Considering that they've just killed the gang leader Billy for attempting to turn states' evidence, it can be seen as a symbol of the gang dissolving for good.
- Well before The Last Jedi, the sentiment was expressed by Kreia in Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. Kreia one-upped the Jedi above by brazenly manipulating the Exile into doing so. If you play Exile Dark-Side, they kill off all the remaining Jedi Masters, Darth Sion, and Darth Nihilus. If you play Light Side, Kreia kills the Jedi when it becomes apparent that they can't understand what the Exile is, and then makes sure Exile destroys Nihilus and Sion. The Final Boss, of course, is herself. She's just as much part of the past she wants to be destroyed. The enclave at Dantooine is left to fall into ruin and be reclaimed by entropy. Atris' hideout on Telos is also ruined. The remains of the Malachor Sith temple are imploded. Kreia wasn't one to leave loose ends.
- The plot of Lucius is set in motion by a character performing satanic rituals in the basement of Dante Manor, which results in Lucius' soul becoming the property of the devil and him murdering the inhabitants of the house. During the final level, Lucius burns Dante Manor to the ground, along with the last of his victims, his father Charles.
- Performing a meta version of this is a hallmark of many of Suda51's games (especially his aptly named "Kill The Past" series,) as protagonists from previous games have a tendency to either be confirmed dead in a later game, or show up alive, but only for a few minutes at best.
- Umineko: When They Cry: It's revealed that a huge stockpile of hidden explosives were used at the end of the second day of the Ushiromiya murder mystery which creates a huge crater on the island and destroys their mansion, the family members, and any evidence with it. Episode 4 and episode 8 of the visual novel suggest that it would be much better to forget about the incident, and let the hype, driven by the media, die so that relatives of people who died can move on.
- In one episode of Adventure Time, Finn and Jake visit their other brother Jermaine in the house where they grew up. It holds no emotional baggage for Finn or Jake, but Jermaine is bound to maintain it, if only because he's imprisoning a demon their father had captured. The demon escapes during the episode and burns the house down, allowing Jermaine to move on with his life.
- In The Simpsons episode "Grandpa vs Sexual Inadequacy", Homer and Abe begin arguing after visiting the farmhouse where they lived before moving to Springfield. They resolve the feud at the end of the episode, as the farmhouse burns to the ground.
- In the fourth season finale of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Tirek destroys the Golden Oaks Library, Twilight Sparkle's residence and main repository of knowledge. The third episode of season 5 focuses on Twilight lamenting the loss of the library.
- According to legend, the English king Richard II had his palace at Sheen burned down after the death of his first wife, Queen Anne, because the place was a favourite of hers and the memories associated with it, though once pleasant, had become too painful to him.