What’s done is done. If you have survived a home fire (which is possible if you follow the tips mentioned earlier in the guide), it is time to pull up your socks, fix the damage, and get on with life.
Here’s a 5-step process to help you recover from a house fire.
1. Expect the Worst
Assume your house is destroyed. Set your expectations to “apocalypse” and nothing will be able to touch you. Even if the fire wasn’t huge, the repercussions can be devastating. The heat, smoke, and soot from the fire could have left your house looking ugly, structurally weak, and practically unusable.
Remember the hoses they were using to put out the fire? Water damage can be a huge problem in otherwise unaffected areas of your house after a fire. Sometimes firemen also have to cut through walls to access certain places or break doors and windows. So, be mentally prepared for the worst.
2. Don’t Move Back into Your Home Right Away
If you are lucky and your house has only sustained minimal fire damage, you’d probably want to move back in immediately. But wait. Even if your house looks livable, it might not be.
You might think that the blackened walls are nothing more than a cosmetic problem, but the residual soot on the walls and other items at home can actually be unhealthy to breathe in. Any water or chemicals that were used in putting out the fire could also put you in danger. Mold is no joke. Check everything and make sure there are no health dangers before your family returns.
Make sure your contractor makes the walls stable, checks load-bearing structures for strength, and reinstalls missing or damaged doors and windows. Unless you’re going for a RENT aesthetic, you’ll also want a full cleaning and repainting when the structural work is done.
Mold grows quickly on damp fabric, so act fast to remove any bedding and clothing you’d like to save. You may need to enlist the help of your neighbors to launder and store your items until you can return home.
If your textiles smell like smoke, vinegar can help remove the smell. Vinegar also removes mildew, so you can kill two birds with one stone!
3. Deal with Your Insurer the Right Way
As a homeowner facing fire damage, you are most likely to look to your insurer for relief. But your success will depend on how well you communicate and navigate the weird waters of an insurance claim. Here are a few tips to consider:
- Check what your policy says about covering replacement items or ask your agent. This will help you get an advance check against your eventual claim to afford essentials.
- Keep a track of and collect receipts for the expenses while living outside your home. The difference between your temporary costs and your usual cost of living is likely to be covered by your policy. For example, if you’d normally spend $200 on food each week, but have to spend $400 each week on take-out in your post-fire emergency digs, the extra $200 would be covered.
- Keep a track of all communication (via in-person meetings, phone, text, or email) that you have with your insurer so there’s no confusion about either side’s promises, agreements, or blood oaths later. If you have phone conversations, it’s a good idea to immediately recap them in an email so nothing falls through the cracks. Don’t be afraid to ask your rep to communicate with you exclusively in writing, if you’re concerned about maintaining a good record.
4. Replace Any Burned Papers and Money
If your important documents or cash has been burnt, get them replaced. Other material possessions can be rebuilt or bought again later on. But papers are crucial.
If you’ve ever had to trade in a ratty $5 bill for a fresh one at the bank, the process is similar for burned cash, but you’ll likely have to go to the mint instead of the bank. The good news is, even if more than half the bill is burnt, you should be able to get it replaced if they believe the rest was destroyed in the fire.
5. Secure Your Home Until You Can Move Back In
If you can’t live in your house, make sure no one else can either! Take that, you opportunistic raccoons.
A damaged home is a target for vandals, thieves, and squatters, so keep things buttoned up. Fix your doors and windows as soon as possible, and make sure your house is fully enclosed, even if you start with tarps or plastic sheeting. If your neighbors aren’t nearby, hiring a guard can be a good option. Ask your insurance agent if any security is covered by your policy.
You can also let your local police precinct know that your house is damaged so they can keep a closer eye on it while it awaits repairs. Whether that will make a difference will depend entirely on your local police, but it’s worth a shot!
Rumor has it, ACAB.
Dealing with the effects of a fire will bite the big one, no matter which way you slice it. Through it all, remember that the stuff is just stuff, and your family’s safety is the only thing that matters. If you need more assistance than your insurance coverage provides, many private organizations provide aid to people who have experienced home fires. Ask for help! The best advice we can give you is to continually remind yourself that you might have to ask for help to receive help. There’s no shame in asking, and you’ll almost certainly find that people (some who have been in your situation) will be more than willing to help meet your needs.
Keep yourself safe out there! Make good choices to prevent fires at home, stay prepared for the worst, and keep your eye on the prize (your survival) if the worst does happen. Fire preparedness only happens if you put in the work, and we know you can do it!
You’ll put in the work and be prepared to survive, or you’ll ignore what we’ve said… and get fried. Good luck!