Dealing with the aftermath of a house fire is overwhelming. In addition to property damage, it can cause financial hardship, physical injury, and emotional harm. Once the fire is extinguished and the smoke has cleared, many homeowners are left wondering who to contact, and what steps to take to contain the chaos. If a fire does start in your home, the first and most important step is taking care of yourself, your loved ones, and your pets — you can worry about your property and belongings later after everyone is safe and the fire is out. Read on to learn more about what to do after a fire, including staying safe, securing your property, and starting the fire damage repair process.
1. Secure Your Property
If your home is damaged enough that you need to vacate the premises and seek temporary housing, it’s your responsibility to secure it before you leave to prevent further loss. Bad weather, vandals, and thieves can cause further damage to your property, all of which may not be covered under your homeowner’s insurance policy. Remove all remaining valuables from the property, cover any openings created by the fire, and lock all the doors before you leave. Talk with trusted neighbors to let them know that the home will be sitting empty until it can be repaired. In many cases, the fire department will assist with shutting off gas and utility lines to your home and contacting local board-up companies to secure all access points until it’s safe to re-enter.
2. Find a Safe Place to Stay
Even if your home is not a total loss, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to get back inside right away due to lingering smoke, carbon monoxide, and water or debris from the emergency response team. Depending on your coverage, your insurance company may provide reimbursement for housing while you are displaced because of the fire. If the damage is minor, you may only need a place for you and your family to stay for a few nights or weeks. If your home suffered extensive damage you may need something more long-term. Speak to your insurance agent about your policy coverage for alternate living expenses and assistance with finding a safe place to stay. Many insurance carriers also offer loss-of-use funds, which provide reimbursement for any extra money spent on day-to-day expenses due to displacement. Save receipts for money you spend related to fire loss, as they may be needed later by the insurance company, and to verify losses claimed on your income tax. If you don’t have adequate housing coverage or need additional emergency assistance, your local disaster relief service, such as the Greater Rochester Chapter of The American Red Cross, can provide temporary housing, food, basic necessities, and emotional support.
3. Contact Your Insurance Agent and Others
Whether it’s a minor kitchen fire, a major house fire, or any other sort of fire damage, it’s crucial to file a home insurance claim as quickly as possible. Notify your insurance agent and begin the claim process immediately. Filing quicker means you’ll receive your claims payment quicker, there’s less time for more damage to occur, and you can get back to your normal life sooner rather than later. You should also ask for a certified copy of your insurance policy, especially if your copy was damaged or destroyed in the fire. If you are renting your home, contact your landlord immediately so that they can make decisions about the property and begin the recovery process. If you have renter’s insurance, contact your insurance carrier to file a claim for any personal property that was damaged or lost in the fire. Upon filing a fire damage claim, your insurance company will ask for proof of the damaged home and belongings. They’ll also send out their own insurance adjuster to survey the damages and prepare a Scope of Loss and propose a figure for the value of your claim. If you have received an estimate from your insurance agent or claims adjuster, do not accept it as final unless it is satisfactory to you. Most policies require that you approve any payment due before it can be made by the insurance carrier.
4. Request a Copy of the Fire Department’s Damage Report
In most cases, the fire department will prepare a detailed damage assessment report for your property after the fire has been contained. Your insurance carrier will use the information in this report along with other documentation to document the cause and scope of your loss. Contact the fire department to request a copy for your own records. Check it over to ensure all information is accurate and address any discrepancies with local officials or your insurance agent. It will be helpful to have later should questions arise during the insurance claim process, as your memory of the incident may be clouded by the chaotic events and emotional trauma of the situation on the day it occurred.
5. Get Clearance to Re-Enter Your Home
Just because the flames are out doesn’t mean it’s safe to re-enter your home. Wait until local authorities give you the OK to go back inside. Your insurance carrier may need to provide approval for you to enter your home as well. Don’t re-enter too soon, as that could impact your insurance claim. If your home is not deemed structurally sound, you may not be able to enter at all without putting yourself at significant risk of injury. Even with clearance to re-enter, it’s a good idea to wear protective clothing and gear to prevent injury from falling debris, tripping hazards, and lingering smoke or soot in the air. Wear a hat or hard hat, long pants, closed-toed shoes, and a particle-filtering surgical mask or respirator.
6. Catalog Damaged Possessions and Retrieve Undamaged Ones
If and when you can safely re-enter, begin to survey and document the damage. Take inventory of all the items that were lost or damaged as a result of the fire, and take as many pictures of the damaged contents and property as possible. These photos and videos are proof that the fire occurred and can be used later in the home insurance claims process. Break out your smartphone and record detailed videos of each room and area of damage, or do a complete walkthrough of the entire home, focusing on heavily damaged areas and contents. If possible, gather serial numbers, make, model, and receipts of larger household items such as appliances and televisions. If you’ve created a contents list to be used in the event of a home insurance claim, now is the perfect time to locate it. If you’re lucky enough to have undamaged items, be sure to remove them from the home and store them in a secure location. A professional fire damage restoration company can assist you with the disposal, cleaning, moving, and storage of both damaged and undamaged contents. However, do not dispose of any contents or attempt to repair any damage before they are accurately documented and proven damaged or destroyed. Doing so can cost you their value in your final claim.
7. Restore and Rebuild
If your house has been damaged in a fire, it will need to be restored and repaired by a professional fire damage restoration company. Fire damage to your property often goes beyond what the eye can see. Not only will direct damage from the fire need to be repaired or replaced, but heat, smoke, and soot can cause lingering damage to your home and your possessions. On top of that, your property may now have water damage from the firefighters’ suppression efforts. Fire damage restoration requires specialized equipment, knowledge, and skill to ensure the damage (both seen and unseen) is safely and completely removed. This is not the time to DIY or to bring in a general home remodeling contractor for a free estimate. Doing so can result in lingering odors or structural damage being left behind long after the work is done, potentially causing numerous issues and costly headaches down the line. Professionals like Rochester Fire Restoration have IICRC-certified Fire and Smoke Restoration Technicians who know exactly where to start. We’re fully equipped to handle your fire damage restoration project from start to finish, from cleaning and restoration to reconstruction and remodeling.
8. Practice Fire Safety Moving Forward
While some fires aren’t preventable, many of them are. By making sure your smoke detectors are in good working order and by ensuring you don’t create any fire hazards, such as unattended candles, or overloaded outlets or circuits, you can work to prevent another fire from occurring. Your professional fire restoration company can also assist you with incorporating fire-safety measures into your rebuild, including hard-wired interconnected smoke detectors and fire-rated building materials.
While a house fire is a traumatizing event that no one wants to experience, the bright side is that you may be able to rebuild your home with updated finishes and fixtures that better suit your tastes and preferences. Not only can we help you recover quickly, but we can work with you to help create a space you’ll love to come home to. In the unfortunate event of a fire, this post-house fire checklist can help get you on track to recovery, fast.