There are dozens of things to think about after a fire. The fire department, police insurance company, and seemingly everyone else in the world will be asking you to do something. On top of that, you’re going through one of the most stressful situations in life: you may have lost your home and so many valuable possessions and memories. In such a stressful time in life, it’s important to take a moment to collect your wits, and see the situation from the big picture so you know where to focus your time.
Immediately after a house fire, there are many things to think about. Here is our advice on the things you ought to think about in the first 24-48 hours following the fire.
After a fire, the only truly important matter is the safety and health of your family, friends, other occupants, neighbors and pets! Any other matters come second after the safety of everyone involved.
The fire department will have extinguished the fire. Depending on the size of the fire, conditions, and the ways the fire department had to extinguish the fire, the house may yet be unsafe to enter. There may still be parts of the house that are smoldering or the structure of the house may be damaged and unsafe to walk through. Even after the fire has been extinguished, under no conditions should you enter the house until the fire department has given you explicit directions to do so. Your health and safety are the number one priority!
If everyone is safe and the fire department has extinguished the fire, you should consider contacting your insurance agent or insurance company to file a claim. Your insurance company will often times be one of the best resources for discussing next steps for yourself and next steps for the house, so it’s important to get in touch with them as soon as you can!
Discuss with your insurance company the immediate needs, which are food, clothing and shelter. You’ll be able to worry about your house and possessions in due time, so make sure these immediate needs are being met.
Many policies will have a “loss of use” policy to help cover housing and living expenses while your house is uninhabitable. As you start the claim process, make sure to ask about this! Depending on the insurance company, you might even be given a check right away to help cover basic necessities, such as clothes, a toothbrush, and food.
This may seem a little silly at first, but you’ll be glad you listened to this advice. Go purchase a 3 ring binder or some way for you to take detailed notes and collect receipts.
It’s so important to keep detailed records of all the communications you have with the insurance company, fire department, contractors, and anybody else involved in the process after the fire. Keep notes of who you’ve talked with, when you talked to them, and what you discussed. With so many things going on, it’ll be so easy to forget details in the days and weeks following the fire. Stay proactive, and keep good notes.
Also, this binder can be a great way to keep receipts and print records that you might need to reference later. More likely than not, your insurance company will ask you to provide receipts for living expenses or services you paid for relating to the fire. You’ll be able to keep much more of your sanity if all the records are in one place.
Recover any possessions
Only after the fire department has given you explicit instructions, should you enter your house!
You’ll have a chance to recover any possessions that are still salvageable, and also to see what has been destroyed. It’ll be very helpful if you take extensive photos and videos of the house after the fire. These can be helpful to the insurance company as well as for yourself to remind you what possessions were in the house.
It’s usually easiest to remove any salvageable possessions from the house, so you can understand what was partially or fully destroyed. If space is a limiting factor, you might consider renting storage, so you can at least move your recovered possessions out of the house.
Pay particular attention to regaining any valuable items and documents. Regardless of whether they are personally valuable (ie. photos, heirlooms, etc.) or have monetary value (ie. electronics, jewelry, etc.), try to recover these items. Also, pay particular attention in locating important legal documents, such as a drivers license, passport, birth certificate, marriage certificate, tax records, social security card or the similar documents. It’ll save you a lot of time and energy if you can recover these instead of trying to replace them.
As you find the items that were damaged in the fire (or in the process of extinguishing the fire), begin to make a list of what was lost. Work with your insurance company to see what identifying information they need from you in order to make a claim. This may include photos, receipts, model numbers or serial numbers.
Secure the house
Likely, your insurance company or the police will ask that you take measures to secure the house to prevent any health hazards and to help mitigate further damages to the property. Make sure to ask your insurance agent what they recommend you do and if they have any restoration companies they can suggest.
Restoration companies can help with some of the smaller issues, like removing smoke damage, to the bigger issues, like removing water used by the fire department. Some other things you might need to do to secure the property are:
- Covering section of leaky roof
- Board up doors and windows that are broken or missing
- Put up chain fence around house to prevent vandalism
The fire department will likely make sure that all utilities to the house have been shut off. (Remember, things like fire and natural gas aren’t good combinations, especially in your house) It’s a good thing to double check the utilities have been shut off. And make sure you do not attempt to turn them back on until you’ve gotten explicit directions from the fire department that you can do so. Remember, safety first!