While no one wants to think about what to do after a house fire, it really pays to be prepared.
House fires can be devastating for a family – and the road to recovery can be long and hard.
But here’s the good news: you’re not alone.
With help from emergency officials, insurance providers, family, and friends, it’s more than possible to rebuild your home (and life!) after a house fire.
In the following, we highlight 9 important steps to take after a house fire:
What to Do After a House Fire Step #1: Call 9-1-1
If a fire ever starts in your home, calling 9-1-1 should typically be your first priority.
While there are situations where other actions take precedence (like alerting your family or escaping your home), the faster you make the call, the more likely you are to salvage your home and belongings.
Keep in mind, that this also goes for witnessing a fire or even smelling smoke!
A quick call to 9-1-1 could save a neighbor’s home and maybe even stop it from spreading to yours.
When on the phone with 9-1-1 dispatchers, it’s important to stay calm, speak clearly and slowly, and provide clear directions to your phone.
It’s also a good idea to teach your kids how to use 9-1-1 in the event of a fire or other emergency.
While most experts suggest teaching kids how to call 9-1-1 at around four-years-old, a case can be made for starting earlier – like when one parent is frequently home alone or has a medical condition.
For that extra bit of peace of mind, you should also consider installing one or more a Notion Sensor by your smoke alarms so even while you're away, you'll know if your smoke alarm is sounding.
What to Do After a House Fire Step #2: Contact Your Insurance Company
As soon as you’ve safely evacuated your home and the fire department is on the way, it’s important to call your insurance provider and notify them of the fire.
The sooner you get started with the process, the sooner you can replace your belongings and start on any repairs to your home! (Plus, most policies require homeowners to report their loss as soon as is reasonably possible).
The process for making a claim will vary by insurance company, but most require a list of all damaged or destroyed possessions. We’ll discuss this more below, but it’s important to take photos of the damage and keep damaged items (unless they pose a health threat).
If you were forced to evacuate your home quickly, you will likely need things such as toiletries and clothes for work. Your homeowners’ policy should cover the cost to replace these items, but obviously that will take some time.
Ask your claims advisor to provide an advance against an eventual claim and remember to save receipts for your purchases!
What to Do After a House Fire Step #3: Find a Place to Stay
No matter how much damage is done to your house, it’s important to find an alternative place to stay – even if it’s for just one night.
If your house has suffered a fire breakout, it will likely contain smoke residue that could be harmful to your family and pets.
Whether it’s a hotel, or family or friend’s home, finding a comfortable place to stay will give you some peace of mind while you and your family figure out your next steps.
What to Do After a House Fire Step #4: Plan Your Finances
Dealing with finances is probably the last thing you want to do after a house fire – but bills, mortgage payments, and other financial responsibilities still need to be paid!
As we mentioned earlier, by notifying your insurance company early, you’ll have a better understanding of what your insurance covers and whether or not you’ll need to cover certain expenses out-of-pocket.
Other things to consider are car payments, utility bills, internet bills, and loan repayments. It’s a really good idea to contact each in advance if you need to arrange alternative payment methods or dates.
In most fires, it’s also common to lose possessions such as clothing and appliances, so it’s best to hold onto (and even make copies) of receipts to ensure you’re quickly reimbursed.
Step #5: Evaluate the State of Your Home
First thing first, it’s very important that you do not enter your home until you’ve been given permission from the fire department.
Because house fires can weaken the structural integrity of your home, it can be very dangerous to re-enter without proper permission.
It’s also important to know that re-entering your home too soon can void certain parts of your insurance policies – which can cause problems when trying to get reimbursed.
To be extra careful, you may want to get permission from your insurance company before you re-enter the home.
Step #6: Notify the Police
After you’ve established the state of your home, you may learn that it will take some time before it’s move-in ready.
If this is the case, it’s important to contact your local police and inform them that your home will be temporarily vacant and to make sure the property remains safe when you are away – houses with fire damage can be attractive for looters and squatters.
For additional peace of mind while your home is unoccupied, you can install Notion Sensors so that you’ll know if anyone opens a window or door.
This can give you extra peace of mind if you’re away from your home for a longer period of time.
Step #7: Create a List of Damaged Goods
In order to properly get reimbursed for your belongings, you need to make a list of everything you lost – both big and small!
First thing first, it’s important to track down any important documents (birth certificates, passports, driver licenses, medical records, and more). If these documents have been damaged, they must be replaced immediately.
Most insurance companies will require detailed information (including model, serial numbers, receipts, and photographs).
While this information could be difficult to recover, you can also use online bank statements as proof of purchase.
After you’ve sorted through your belongings, the non-damaged goods should be stored in a secure place such as a fireproof safe or family or friend’s home.
Step #8: Wait to Turn on Utilities
While it’s likely that the fire department will turn off any utilities to prevent further damage on their own, it’s important to double-check that utilities are disconnected.
This includes gas, electric utilities, and any water sources that could cause flooding.
If you’re unsure whether they’re still connected or not, it’s best to contact your fire department and utility provider. It’s also important to contact them again before turning everything back on because unsafe utilities cause additional fires, leaks, and water damage.
If you’re concerned about the future state of your water heaters, AC units, or leaky pipes, install a Notion Sensor to let you know the second a leak happens!
Step #9: Leave Cleanup to the Professionals
While it may be tempting to start cleaning the smoke or soot damage yourself, it’s best to leave this to experts with proper safety experience. This residue can often be toxic and harmful touched or inhaled.
That being said, the longer acidic soot and dry chemicals from fire extinguishers sit, the more damage they will do to your home.
So once the state of your house has been evaluated, and you’ve been given the green light to re-enter, it’s important to schedule cleaners to get started with the cleanup process.
Thanks for reading! We hope that we’ve helped you feel more prepared and organized if you’ve experienced a house fire. It can be a long process, but there’s no doubt things can turn around!