There are few home disaster experiences as devastating and traumatic as a house fire. In a matter of minutes, your family’s property and treasured personal belongings can be damaged or destroyed. If it happens to you, the emotional impact can be so strong that you’re at a loss for how to start cleaning up and restoring your home to some semblance of normal.
To help you deal with this distressing time, we’ve put together a list of the first five things you should do in the aftermath of a home fire, as well as some other helpful resources that can make the experience less stressful.
What to Do First After a House Fire
At Central Florida Restoration Solutions, we’ve seen firsthand how destructive fire and smoke damage can be. Our years of experience have also shown us, though, that the more proactive you are in mitigating a fire’s effect on your property and belongings, the more in control of the situation you’ll feel. From securing your home to filing insurance claims and arranging fire damage removal, here’s how to navigate this difficult time confidently.
1. Secure The Home
When fighting a house fire, firefighters often need to break windows and cut holes in the roof and walls. While this helps slow the fire’s growth, eliminates dark, blinding smoke, and ensures the fire is completely out, it also leaves your home vulnerable to break-ins and other damage.
If you need to leave the property, which is likely if the fire damage is extensive, secure it as much as possible to deter looters. Notify the police the property is unoccupied and leave your contact information with one or two trusted neighbors who can also help by keeping the occasional eye on your home.
Other things you can do include having broken windows and other openings boarded up. If you think you’ll be out of the house for an extended period, consider erecting a temporary fence around it.
2. Document Any Damages
You can do this immediately and then again with your insurance company appraiser. Note, all repairs that must be made and which items are salvageable. Take pictures and shoot videos to back up your claims. If you have “before” pictures and other paperwork that support your claim, put them in a separate folder.
If your home is a total loss, ask the insurance adjuster what the process is for helping you rebuild it. Though most insurers send payment jointly to you and your mortgage company, you’ll need to discuss it with your insurance company and your mortgage provider so you receive the payment you’re entitled to.
3. File Insurance Claims
The insurance company will ask you to inventory everything that was lost or damaged during the fire. Ask your agent for an inventory sheet to help with the process, and be sure to make any necessary additions. Referring to family photos and videos can be helpful in reconstructing a list of your belongings. You might be surprised at how many items you forget. Don’t hesitate to ask friends or relatives who’ve been in your home to help you compile your list. Most people are at a loss about what they can do to help, and this is one way they can feel useful. You can also review old credit card statements and bank records to determine what you bought and what you paid.
4. Obtain Temporary Housing
No matter the amount of damage, you likely won’t be able to stay in your home after the fire’s put out. It’s generally considered unsafe to sleep in a house post-fire, mainly because of the harmful effect smoke and chemicals can have on your family’s and pets’ health. Even if a fire was contained in one room, smoke particles tend to easily spread to other parts of the house. In any event, check with the fire department to make sure your home is safe to enter due to toxic gases or structural damage.
Once you know what resources your insurance policy provides, find another place to stay. For short-term displacements, you might be able to stay with friends or relatives. Long-term, you’ll want to consider renting somewhere. If you’re temporarily moving to another district, don’t forget to let your children’s schools know.
Be sure to keep receipts for everything you spend. Your insurance company may reimburse you for some if not all of the expenses; others you may be able to deduct on your income tax return.
When packing up belongings to take with you, consider your immediate, basic, and short-term needs.
- Immediate needs include things like clean changes of clothing for each family member, including sleepwear, underwear, and socks. Other needed items depend on whether you’ll be staying with relatives, at a hotel, or at a local shelter. In those cases, you might need things such as hygiene kits, ready-to-eat meals, toothbrushes, soap, and other toiletries as well as washcloths and towels. Baby diapers and formula should also be packed and, if you have pets and they’re welcome where you’ll be staying, bring enough food for a couple of days and a few of their favorite toys, if salvageable.
- Basic needs include school clothing for the kids and work clothes for adults. You should also bring medicines, glasses, contacts and solution, hearing aids, and other medical devices or aids with you.
- Short-term needs help you establish a semi-normal life in your new location. They include pots and pans to cook with, dishes, glasses, and utensils. If you have children, be sure to have some favorite toys, games, and books on hand.
5. Begin the Fire Remediation Process
The fire damage removal and restoration process should be handled by a professional fire restoration company as soon as possible.
A professional fire damage restoration company handles the aftermath of smoke and fire incidents, provides cleanup services, inspects your home and property for additional damage, and ensures fire-related damages are repaired thoroughly and safely.
Everyone’s situation is different, but here’s what’s included in most of the fire restoration jobs we do:
- If necessary, we pump out standing water left from putting out the fire. This gets the drying process started immediately so the possibility of water damage and mold growth is reduced.
- We use professional tools and techniques to improve your home’s ventilation and air quality. State-of-the-art air scrubbers and industrial-strength fans remove hazardous air particles and reduce the extent of smoke damage.
- Alkaline cleaning agents, special filters, and specialized equipment prevent and mitigate additional damage to your Central Florida home.
People often ask how long the fire damage restoration process will take. That’s difficult to say without inspecting your property. Even then, we may uncover hidden damage during the fire damage removal stage which will require additional time to address. That said, a professional restoration company like CFRS understands time is one of the utmost considerations a homeowner has when dealing with fire damage. We keep you informed of what’s going on every step of the way.
One thing, though, is for sure: the sooner you start on the fire restoration process, the better and the sooner you’ll be back in your home. That’s why it’s essential to work with a contractor who provides emergency fire damage restoration services. CFRS provides 24/7 emergency fire damage removal services—you can count on us to be there as quickly as possible!
Where to Find Help
Some people aren’t covered by insurance for house fires. Others are new to the area and don’t have anyone to reach out to. There are a number of community, state, and national programs and organizations that can help you get back on your feet, including:
- The American Red Cross (ARC), which also has a Central Florida Home Fire Campaign program.
- The Salvation Army and the United Way.
- Faith-based organizations, many of whom offer rental assistance.
- Public agencies, such as the public health department.
- Community support groups.
- State or municipal emergency services, such as the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
- Nonprofit crisis counseling centers.
Understandably, the first thing people think about after a fire is the belongings they lost. But it’s also crucial to care for yourself and your loved ones. When you’re caught up in practical details, it can be easy to think you have stress under control. Disasters, though, can make it difficult to cope, especially for children and the elderly. Be patient with yourself and others as you all work through the stress caused by the fire. And don’t be afraid to seek professional support.
Picking Up the Pieces: A Recap
Along with some helpful advice from the folks at FEMA, here’s a quick review of what you can do to feel empowered during a house fire crisis.
- Have your property, medical, and auto insurance information handy, as well as your driver’s license, social security card, credit cards, and some cash.
- Have a professional check for electrical, plumbing, and HVAC issues.
- Contact local disaster relief services if necessary for temporary housing, food, and medicines.
- Notify your insurance and mortgage companies of the fire.
- Check with the IRS or an accountant about special benefits for people recovering from fire loss.
Things you should not do include:
- Reentering your property without fire department approval.
- Trying to reconnect utilities yourself.
- Turning on appliances exposed to water.
- Consuming any food or drink that’s been exposed to the fire.
24/7 Fire Damage Remediation Services
A home fire can cause significant emotional distress, no matter how extensive the damage. You shouldn’t underestimate how challenging evacuating, relocating, and rebuilding after a fire can be. It’s common for people who’ve suffered a fire loss to experience a full range of emotions, including shock, anger, depression, and hopelessness.
Getting the help you need immediately after a fire can make you feel more in control of the situation and helps you move forward in your recovery. A fire damage restoration company can play a significant role in helping you get back on track. By calling in the pros at CFRS as soon as possible, you prevent further smoke damage and mold damage from occurring and make the fire damage removal and recovery process much less stressful.
If your Central Florida home has suffered fire-related damage, don’t risk its structural integrity or, more importantly, the safety and health of your family. When fire damage strikes your home, contact CFRS to locate, assess, and act to fully mitigate any damage and restore your property. With nearly a thousand customers served and 18 industry certifications, we’re here to provide the fire restoration services you need and deserve!
Big or small, house fires are a scary ordeal. Of course, we hope you never have to deal with a catastrophic fire at your home, but if you do, we’re here to help and guide you through the aftermath. For more than 25 years, CFRS has helped hundreds of Central Florida homeowners deal with fire damage, and we can do the same for you. To learn more about all the home restoration solutions we offer, contact CFRS today.