What to Do After a House Fire
A house fire is one of the most stressful experiences in a person’s life, and it can be very difficult to know what to do in the direct aftermath. That said, it is important to do certain things early on, not do others at all, and check off certain boxes so that you stay in the good graces of your insurance company. Here, we detail what to do after a fire.
Contact Fire Department
The fire department will need to make sure that there is no smoldering that could lead to a flare up very soon after the fire, particularly if you were able to put the fire out on your own. You will also need to have the fire department conduct a thorough inspection and give you the official go-ahead to re-enter your home. This is absolutely imperative, as entering your home without the permission of the fire department can void areas of your insurance coverage.
Even if your house seems safe to enter, there could be structural instability not obvious to the naked and untrained eye, or lingering noxious fumes, and you need to protect yourself. The fire department will be able to advise you regarding what is safe and unsafe, but also be sure to listen to your gut. It’s always better safe than sorry.
Find a Place to Stay
Once the fire is out and the emergency has passed, you might need a place to stay. Even if the fire department says the building is safe to enter, the smoke odor could be too much to handle. You’ll need to figure out where you’re going to be staying while the repairs are underway. If you don’t have friends or family nearby who can house you, find accommodations nearby, and be sure to keep any receipts.
Keeping receipts will, of course, be a common theme throughout this list. Your homeowner’s insurance exists for events such as this, but you can only claim what you can document, so it’s imperative to begin documenting right away.
If you cannot stay with friends or family, and cannot afford a hotel or motel right away, contact the American Red Cross or Salvation Army, as they may be able to help you secure temporary shelter.
Contact a Fire Damage Restoration Company
You’re going to want someone on your side who can navigate the complexities of the situation, both on the ground and from a paperwork perspective. Bringing in a company that can accurately assess the damage to your home and possessions is key. A good disaster restoration company like Abbotts can help you understand your insurance policy and coordinate with your insurance adjuster.
You may also need to board up windows and doors, and may want to install a temporary chain-link fence to further protect from criminal activity. Your fire damage restoration company will also be able to help with this step. They will also be familiar with insurance policy coverage terms and help you document the damage.
Contact Your Insurance Agent
You need to get in touch with your insurance company to open your claim right away, and stay in touch with them throughout this process. Claims can take a long time to process, but you may be able to get an advance for living expenses, particularly if you lost the contents of your wallet or purse in the fire.
While fire damage restoration professionals can coordinate with your insurance company, you want to follow their instructions so you don’t slow the process, or even worse, nullify any part of your coverage. Be sure you ask for updates and ask for clarifications about your policy coverage. It is your right to choose your fire damage restoration company.
Contact Police Department
Post-fire homes are easy targets for looting and squatting. Let the police department know that there has been a fire, so that they are aware of the situation and can react appropriately.
Your world will seem suspended in time, but even after a fire, your bills will continue to roll in. Even though you cannot inhabit your home, your mortgage will continue. This may be covered by your insurance, but it is important that you know how this process will work, and make sure that no payments are missed. Along those lines, keep paying your homeowner’s insurance, as this also doesn’t disappear just because your home may be inhabitable.
Also be sure to call your internet and cable providers, as well as any other providers of services you cannot use during this time. They should be able to work with you to suspend service while you’re displaced.
Keep Yourself Organized
One thing that will make this entire process much easier is keeping your head on your shoulders when it comes to organization. We recommend getting a binder (or creating an organized folder online) and keeping absolutely every piece of paper you receive throughout this process in one place. You’ll want every receipt, any letters or other communication from your insurance company, and anything from the fire or police departments. Generally speaking, you can’t have too much information when it comes to an insurance claim, so keep everything, and keep it organized as best you can.
“Loss of use” costs are those incurred as a result of being unable to stay in your home. Insurance companies may cover the difference between normal costs and the increased costs of living elsewhere. For instance, if you are staying in a hotel and have to eat your meals out, the insurance company may cover the difference between that and cooking your meals at home. So make sure to keep records of all expenses during this time, as those could be a part of your claim.
List Damaged and Lost Items
You will need to document all items lost to or damaged by the fire. Your fire damage restoration company can help with this. The more documentation (pictures, receipts) that you have, the better, but do whatever you can. Insurance companies may ask for information such as dates of purchase, serial numbers, original cost, and the condition of the items. This is something that is great to put together in case of a future fire, but if you’re already in the aftermath, just gather whatever information you can.
Begin this list as soon as possible, even before returning to your home. If you have a list of possessions to reference, then you can document the level of damage once you are back in your house.
Insurance policies differ, and your company may provide an “actual cash value” or a “replacement cash value” for items (ACV or RCV). This will determine whether the amount provided is equal to the cost to replace the item, or the cost minus depreciation.
Salvage and Store Undamaged Possessions
Once you have permission to enter and move about your home, you might want to get started by removing anything that was not damaged by the fire. Check out our Fire Damage Do’s and Don’ts. You’ll want to be careful not to cause additional damage. Be sure to clean and deodorize the items before storing them, removing any ash and soot. It is a good idea to get a storage unit nearby to keep items that were not ruined or damaged.
Many insurance policies cover all levels of fire damage, including smoke damage. You may not initially notice smoke odors, as the odor of smoke permeates your entire home. However, smoke damage can be significant, particularly in furniture and clothing, and should be considered when listing damages. Smoke odor will contaminate clean items but may be able to be salvaged.
It may be difficult to tell what is damaged, and whether your belongings are salvageable. Your fire damage restoration and repair company can be a lot of help at this point, as you decide what contents to keep, repair, and throw away. The restoration company can also provide repair estimates for your home, which can help you decide whether it makes the most sense to rebuild or relocate.
Decide Whether to Rebuild
If you have replacement coverage in your policy, you do not need to rebuild on site. Of course, make sure that you fully understand your insurance benefits before making this major decision.
Depending on the extent of the damage, it may not be worth rebuilding. If the damage is less severe, or if remaining in this property is very important to you, a fire damage restoration company like Abbotts can help you determine the cost of cleaning and rebuilding your home.
If you need help figuring out what to do with your possessions and home after a fire, it is a good idea to use a professional disaster restoration company. Abbott’s is here to help, day or night. Please contact us for a free consultation.