Experiencing a house fire is traumatizing, even if you and your loved ones made it through with no injuries. But when the flames are extinguished, where does that leave you?
Fire departments throughout the United States acted on 370,000 home structure fires in 2011, according to the National Fire Protection Association. These fires resulted in 2,520 deaths, nearly 14,000 injuries and almost $7 billion in damage.
No one wants to be one of these statistics. But if you are unfortunate enough to experience a fire in your home, this is what you should know.
Take Care of Yourself and Your Family
Of course, if you or anyone in the home – family, friends or pets – sustained any injuries due to the fire, those should be your first concern. Visit a hospital or veterinarian, if needed. Make sure everyone is healthy or mending.
Next, make sure you have a roof over your head. Ask family or friends to take you in, or help you find a place to stay. In addition, agencies like the Red Cross can provide help or referrals for temporary housing, clothing, food, medicine and other assistance.
File Your Insurance Claim
Contact your insurance company as soon as you can to file a claim. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, you should ask how to respond to your home’s most pressing needs. For example, should you pump the water out of the home? Should you cover the door or windows? Your agent may also request that you make a detailed list (with prices) of all of the items damaged in the fire.
Even if you don’t know the following information when you first call your insurance company, find them out, write them down and keep them handy. You will be in continual contact with your insurance company and will want to know your:
- Policy number
- Claim number
- Insurance adjuster’s name
- Insurance adjuster’s phone number
- Insurance adjuster’s email address
Also make sure you fully understand your policy. What is your deductible? Will you receive the replacement value for your lost goods, or the actual cash value? What are the limits on your policy? If you don’t know, ask questions until you do.
Return to the Site of the Fire
Salvage what you – safely – can. Locate cash, jewelry, firearms and other valuables, as well as furniture. Also look for important documents. If you had essential documents in a safe, all the better. Even if you didn’t, it is well worth looking around for birth certificates, passports and even family photos.
You will also want to secure the site of the fire so neither you nor anyone else will get hurt, and to prevent further damage to the property. Board up doors, windows and any other openings. You may also want to consider temporary fencing around the perimeter of your property.
You Can Never Have Too Much Documentation
Unfortunately the recovery from a disaster such as a fire is not an overnight process, so it is important to take as many notes as possible and be organized. This will not only help with documenting the conversations had during the restoration process, but may also expedite it as well.
- Get a binder or folder and designate it to store all of your notes and documentation pertaining to your insurance claim.
- Keep your receipts together of anything that may possibly be pertaining to the claim.
- Extra living expenses
- Replacement Items
- Dining receipts
- Walk Through the Damaged Areas and Record it on Video if Possible
- Take Many Photos of the Debris and Close Up Pictures of any Potentially Salvageable Items
- Create an Inventory List of both Salvageable and Unsalvageable Items.
Restoring Your Home After a Fire
If your home can be made livable again, you will want to hire a restoration contractor. Be sure to check that this contractor (and any contractor that you hire) has the appropriate license to do this sort of work. This will not be the work of a day. You want someone experienced, so take the time to check out the contractor’s references or reviews on the company.
Moving on after a house fire can be difficult, no matter the size of the fire or the amount of losses you suffered. Take the appropriate steps one hour, one day at a time, and be sure to ask for help when you need it.
Helpful Links | What to Do After a Fire
- After the Fire! Returning to Normal | U.S. Fire Administration
- Despues del incendio! Retorno a la normalidad (After the Fire! Returning to Normal – Spanish) | U.S. Fire Administration
- Checking Your Home After a Fire | American Red Cross
- Cleaning Up After a Fire | American Red Cross
- Insurance Checklist and Tips: During and After the Fire | Property Casualty Insurers Association of America
- What to Do After a Home Fire | U.S. Fire Administration