What to do After a Fire Destroys your House
One of the most devastating things that can happen to a family is to have all of its material possessions destroyed in a single, horrible flash. Fires destroy homes and turn lives around every day, leaving people to sift through the ashes for questions that no one should have to ask. Questions about what to do next, how to carry on and where to go next? What is the first step you should take on the long road to recovery?
Thankfully there are answers to these critical questions to help guide you through the aftermath of a fire. Here are a few key things to do and to know to help protect yourself and your family from any further potential harm.
Proceed With Caution
Safety first. Do not attempt to reenter your house until you have been cleared to do so by an authorized professional. Putting yourself unnecessarily in harm’s way from exposure to smoke, potential danger from the compromised structural integrity of your home or worse only serves to exacerbate an already unfortunate situation.
Wait for the fire to be completely extinguished and the proper authorities to establish a safe perimeter before you attempt to assess the damage and recover anything yourself. If the house is deemed too badly damaged, you may not be permitted inside. If it is safe to enter, check with the fire department to make sure your utilities are safe to use. If they are not, they will shut them off before they leave. Do not attempt to turn them back on yourself, as doing so could be very dangerous.
If you have to leave your home, it is always a good idea to contact the police department to let them know the house will be vacant. Any steps you can take to guard against potential looting are recommended.
Who to Contact
Restoring normalcy after a disaster begins with making the proper contacts. Chances are the billowing smoke will be accompanied by waves of confusion and disorder as neighbors offer their condolences, reporters ask questions, photographers snap pictures and your phone rings incessantly. Be careful not to let these overwhelming after-effects and your desire for peace and quiet seduce you into giving out your information, agreeing to any services or signing any contracts with people right after or during your house fire.
Some public adjusters will likely be among those soliciting your business after a fire, and while they provide valuable services such as calculating your losses and finding you temporary living, it is always best to know who you are dealing with before entering into an obligation. Take a business card. In between contacting relatives to let them know you are okay, filing a claim with your insurance company and securing your property to prevent looting, do some research about the public adjusters. Discuss your options with people you trust—your family, friends, or a friendly lawyer—and choose the one that is right for you.
If the authorities clear the house and decide it is okay for you to reenter, this is a capital opportunity to try to recover valuable documents and records while also taking notes so you can itemize your losses later. Write down everything you had including the age of the item, the condition it was in and the approximate cost to replace it. It is worth noting that if you do not document your losses, your insurance company will do it for you. And they do not know what you had in the first place, therefore increasing the chances you will not get what you are allowed.
Additionally, begin saving receipts for any purchases you make related to your fire loss. The receipts are proof of any losses claimed on your income tax and will likely come in handy for the insurance company.
Take Care of Yourself
Lastly, do not neglect the human element. Fires are devastating events not only physically but emotionally as well. They can have lasting effects on you or the ones you love, and coping with having your world turned upside-down is a heavy burden. Look after and support one another. If you have children, talk openly and honestly with them about what happened, what will happen next and the steps it will take to return to normal.
There are counseling services available to help families cope with feelings of helplessness, disorientation and despair. It is important to maintain the mindset that you and your loved ones are okay, your belongings can and will be replaced and the only direction you can go from here is up.