What to Do After a Home Fire
Recovering from a fire can be a physically and mentally draining process.
When fire strikes, lives are suddenly turned around. Often, the hardest part is knowing where to begin and who to contact.
The U.S. Fire Administration has gathered the following information to assist you in this time of need. Action on some of the suggestions will need to be taken immediately. Some actions may be needed in the future while others will be on going. The purpose of this information is to give you the assistance needed to assist you as you begin rebuilding your life.
The following are excerpts from After the Fire: Returning to Normal.
Contact your insurance company or agent right away.
Ask your agent:
- What to do about the immediate needs of your home. This includes pumping out water and covering doors, windows, and other openings.
- What you should do first. Some companies may ask you to make a list of everything that was damaged by the fire. They will ask you to describe these in detail and say how much you paid for the items.
Be careful when you return home.
If your home had a home fire sprinkler system, you will find little damage from flames, heat, smoke, and water. If not, and you plan to rebuild your home, now is the time to think about installing sprinklers into your home! Talk with the owner about it if you are a renter. You can find more information at the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition’s website: www.hfsc.org
Frequently asked questions about fire department actions
- Q. Why did they break windows and cut holes in the roof?
- A. As a fire burns, it moves up and down and across, growing very fast. Breaking windows and cutting holes in the roof is called ventilation. This slows the fire’s growth. It helps get rid of dark smoke that makes it hard for firefighters to see where they are going. It helps them fight the fire more quickly. In the end, ventilation can help save lives and property.
- Q. Why do firefighters cut holes in walls?
- A. This is done so that the fire department is sure that the fire is completely out and that there is no fire left inside the walls or in other hidden places.
- Q. How can I get a copy of the fire report?
- A. In most areas, a fire report is a public document. Ask for it at the fire department or fire marshal’s office. The fire report will help you with information that you
- Do not enter a damaged home or apartment unless the fire department says it is safe to go in! Fires can start again even if they appear to be out.
- Watch for damage caused by the fire. Roofs and floors may be damaged and could fall down.
- The fire department will make sure that the utility services (water, electricity, and gas) are safe to use. If they are not safe, firefighters will disconnect them before they leave the site. Do not try to turn them back on yourself.
- Soot and dirty water left behind may contain things that could make you sick. Do not eat, drink, or breathe in anything that has been near the fire’s flames, smoke, soot, or water used to put the fire out.
Cleaning and restoring personal items.
There are companies that are experts in cleaning and/or restoring your personal items. Whether you or your insurer buys this type of service, be clear on who will pay for it. Be sure to ask for an estimate of cost for the work and agree to it in writing. Ask your insurance company for names of companies you can trust to do a good job at a fair price. These companies provide services that include some or all of the following:
- securing your home against more damage;
- estimating damage;
- repairing damage;
- estimating the cost to repair or renew items of personal property;
- storing household items;
- hiring cleaning or repair subcontractors; and
- storing repaired items until needed.
Organizing finances and replacing vital documents.
- Get in touch with your landlord or mortgage lender as soon as possible.
- Contact your credit card company to report credit cards lost in the fire and request replacements.
- Save all receipts for any money you spend. These receipts are important in showing the insurance company what money you have spent concerning your fire loss. This will also help prove you bought things you may want to claim on your income tax forms.
- How to replace vital documents (for example, bank records, driver's license, passport, Social Security card, tax returns)
- How to replace U.S. currency
- How to replace U.S. savings bonds
After a Home Fire Checklist
(print friendly version contained in booklet)
- Contact your local disaster relief service, such as the Red Cross. They will help you find a place to stay for awhile and find food, medicines, and other important things.
- If you have insurance, contact your insurance company. Ask what you should do to keep your home safe until it is repaired. Find out how they want you to make a list of things that were lost or damaged in the fire. Ask who you should talk to about cleaning up the mess. If you are not insured, try contacting community groups for aid and assistance.
- Check with the fire department to make sure your home is safe to enter. Be very careful when you go inside. Floors and walls may not be as safe as they look.
- The fire department will tell you if your utilities (water, electricity, and gas) are safe to use. If not, they will shut these off before they leave. DO NOT try to turn them back on by yourself. This could be very dangerous.
- Contact your landlord or mortgage company about the fire.
- Try to find valuable documents and records. See the information in this brochure about how to get new copies if you need them.
- If you leave your home, call the local police department to let them know the site will be vacant.
- Begin saving receipts for any money you spend related to fire loss. The receipts may be needed later by the insurance company and to prove any losses claimed on your income tax.
- Check with an accountant or the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) about special benefits for people recovering from fire loss.