Each year approximately 350,000 American homes experience a fire.
While that number has dropped drastically since the 1980s, few things in life can be more traumatic when it happens to a homeowner. A fire can destroy precious memories and turn your life upside down in a matter of minutes.
Here’s our checklist of what to do after a house fire to help you move forward after tragedy strikes.
Reach Out to Your Insurance Company
Although you might feel devastated and confused on what to do first after a fire, contact your insurance company as soon as you can. This will get the ball rolling on filing a claim and determining what is covered by your insurance policy.
Be sure to obtain a copy of the fire report from your local fire department for your insurance company. Your insurance company will also provide guidance on any immediate needs of your property. You may need to board up windows and doors and have water pumped out of the home.
A standard home insurance policy covers any damage done to your property by the fire and smoke including its structure and possessions. Additional living expenses should also be covered if you have to temporarily live somewhere else until the home is repaired (if salvageable) or until you find a new home.
Some insurance policies also offer loss of use funds to help you out with daily expenses such as groceries and toiletries. This is in case your credit and/or debit cards are destroyed in the fire.
What to do After a House Fire: Tell the Police
Although they’re already aware of the fire, contacting your police is a good idea if you won’t be able to return to your home for a while. They will be able to help protect the property from anyone entering it to steal items while you’re gone.
Find a Temporary Place to Live
Children and pets are particularly stressed out after an emergency such as a fire. Do your best to comfort and soothe them.
Although it won’t feel like home, you’ll have to make arrangements to find a safe place to live until the permanent situation is sorted out.
If a friend or family members can help out, or if staying in a hotel isn’t an option, the American Red Cross and Salvation Army can provide options. These two disaster relief organizations can also help you replace any medicine lost in the fire.
Either way, the goal is to find a safe and comfortable enough place to stay for you and your family while you get your life back in order.
Save All Receipts
Save receipts for all spending you do following a fire, whether it’s for groceries, lodging, clothing, and anything else you need while displaced from your home. These will be needed to determine reimbursement from your insurance company.
Make a List of Damaged/Lost Items
This task can be daunting, but it’s necessary so your insurance company can pay for the replacement of any covered items. It doesn’t matter how big or small the possession, if it was destroyed or damaged add it to your list.
Keep in mind that with some insurance companies, proof of purchase such as receipts may be required. If you have access to a computer, looking these items up on your credit card statement or checking account history may be proof enough.
Replace Important Documents
If you lost any IDs such as passports or driver’s licenses or other important documents such as automobile titles and tax information, add these as well. These will need to be replaced as soon as possible.
Believe it or not, your regional Federal Reserve Bank can replace any damaged bills if half or more of each bill was untouched by fire. Carefully place each bill in plastic wrap to preserve it.
Melted coins can also be brought to the closed Federal Reserve Bank.
Lost or damaged U.S. savings bonds can be replaced by the Department of Treasury by filling out and submitting Form PD F-1048.
Get Finances in Order
A mortgage still needs to be paid even when a home is made uninhabitable by a fire. While living in a temporary place you will still need to make sure you pay your bills on time.
Contact your credit card company right away to replace any cards that were lost or destroyed by the fire. If you have an emergency fund, now’s the time to use it to pay any unforeseen bills or buy supplies until you’ve returned to your home.
Request Permission to Enter Your Home
Your fire department will tell you when it’s safe to re-enter your home. Parts of the structure or roof can fall down while you’re inside the house, and floors can be dangerous to walk on.
They will also tell you if utilities are safe to use. Do not attempt to turn utilities back on until you receive the OK from fire officials. This can cause further damage.
Be prepared to see broken windows and holes in the roof of your home. Sometimes it’s necessary for the fire department to create ventilation in a building to slow the fire’s spread and improve visibility. Fire officials sometimes cut holes in walls for the same reasons.
When you do re-enter your home, it’s a good idea to wear protective clothing such as long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, footwear with rubber soles for grip, and work gloves. Goggles may not be a bad idea as well. You’ll want to protect yourself from any soot and odors as you access the damage to your possessions.
Hire a Fire Damage Restoration Company
If your home is salvageable, you’ll want to hire someone such as this service to clean up and remove any fire and smoke damage from your home.
It might be tempting to take on this job yourself, but unless you know what you’re doing, it’s not a great idea. A professional fire damage restoration company knows how to safely and thoroughly restore your property to its original condition. Your home may also be full of odors such as melted plastic and other materials that can be hazardous to your family’s health.
Employees that work for a restoration company are certified by the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification. That means they’re qualified to safely remove anything damaged by fire, water, and smoke.
Hiring a trusted restoration company will help your house feel like home again as quickly as possible. It’s also one less thing on your mind to worry about following a fire.
Don’t Be Ashamed to Ask For Help
Losing a home can be a heartbreaking experience. Don’t be timid about reaching out to loved ones for emotional support and a helping hand during this trying time. Having someone trusted to talk to and getting strong emotionally will help you move on.
Ask for help if your children and pets need to be supervised while you attend to important matters about the fire. It may also be necessary to swallow some pride and accept donations from people, whether it’s cash or food. Many people have gotten through a fire aftermath thanks to the generosity of friends, family members, coworkers, and even strangers.
Just don’t forget to thank these people and let them know how truly grateful you are for their charity and support.
Reduce the Risk of Another Fire
Whether your current home has been restored and is deemed safe to move back inside or you had to move into a new property, you’ll want to take steps to reduce the risk of another fire.
Install Fire Alarms
The most important preventative step to take is to make sure there’s a working fire alarm installed on every floor of your home. Keep the batteries fresh and check them every few months to ensure they and the alarm are in working condition.
Never Leave Cooking Unattended
According to the National Fire Protection Association, cooking is the leading cause of home fires. Never walk away and leave any cooking unattended, especially if you’re frying food.
Smoking and Candle Lovers Take Care
After cooking, smoking is the second leading cause of home fires. Many disasters have occurred because a smoker fell asleep with a cigarette in their hand or failed to put one out efficiently. Cigarettes should be snuffed out completely in an ashtray, not tossed into a trash can.
Candles shouldn’t be left unattended, especially if you have children and/or pets in the home. Although they only account for 2% of fires, they can easily be knocked over.
Keep Fire Extinguishers On-Hand
Store fire extinguishers throughout the house, particularly in the kitchen, near your grill, the fireplace, and other areas where a fire could start. Know how to properly use one and teach all members of your household how to safely operate it.
Learn More About Home Ownership
Now that you know what to do after a house fire, please read our newest blog posts on Property Talk. They will teach you all you need to know about home ownership, safety, and maintenance.