What to do after a fire
The first 24 hours following a fire in your home are the most crucial. During this time you must contact your insurance agent that holds your homeowner’s or rental insurance policy, collect necessary receipts and personal documents, ensure utilities to the home are turned off and find emergency resources for you and your family. Due to the importance of all of these tasks, it is best to enlist the help of some family members or other organizations that can provide some assistance in handling these situations.
Your insurance company can help you fill out claim forms for gaining the financial compensation that is provided for in your insurance coverage. An agent can ensure these forms are properly filled out and submitted in a timely manner. A property evaluator will visit your home within a few days to assess the value of the damage to the home. You should keep receipts and documentation of all personal property in your home locked in a fire proof case for easy documenting in these events. This becomes even more crucial should your claim be challenged.
In many cases, the fire department will contact utility companies to have services such as electric, gas and water turned off to the home. You also want to contact service providers for cable, internet and telephone.
Organizations such as the Red Cross, United Way, FEMA and Department of Human Services in your area can provide you with emergency following a fire in your home. These companies will often be able to set up temporary housing, and provide food, clothing and travel services for you when necessary.
Contact the postal service to have your mail held at a nearby location. You can rent a post office box for temporary mail delivery.
Cleaning up after a fire
While most people that are the victim of a house fire want to get their home cleaned up as fast as possible it’s dangerous to re-enter the home until the fire marshal declares it’s safe. It’s possible for embers to flare up in furniture or behind walls for days after a fire.
The first step that should be taken during the cleanup process is to remove all debris and items that are not salvageable. All furniture should be moved to the exterior of the home so that it can dry out as much as possible. Mold, mildew, bacteria and other microorganisms can begin growing in the deep fibers of these items within 24 to 48 hours after the fire occurs if they are not properly dried out.
Create as much ventilation and air circulation in the home as possible. This is necessary for several reasons and serves many purposes. The air quality of the home can be hazardous. Circulation fans and open windows will allow this stagnant air to be pushed outside. The air entering the home will help to dry up any water or fire retardant that is left in the home.
Remove all draperies, window treatments, linens and clothing from the home. These items can be hung outside to help eliminate odors and to remove excessive water.
Use a water-extracting machine to remove water from carpeted floors. With the harmful effects that mold spores can cause in the home it is crucial to get as much water out of the carpet and padding as possible. If more than 48 hours have passed since the fire, discard the carpet and padding. Cleaners that are designed to break up strong bonded smoke odors should be applied as soon as possible.
Wash down all surfaces in the home. This includes dishes, appliances, collectibles and other items that you want to salvage from the fire. A mixture of one gallon of hot water to one cup of white vinegar can help kill smoke odors and acts as a natural mold killer.
Remove materials such as drywall, flooring, windows, doors and other areas of the home that have been damaged during the fire and must be replaced. Make sure these materials are properly disposed of in accordance with your zoning ordinances.
Protecting your property
House fires are never planned so it’s important to plan accordingly. The following tips can help ensure important documents and personal possessions are safe.
Keep important documents in a safe place
Always keep copies of receipts for major household items such as appliance, televisions, electronics and other items. These receipts should be kept in a fire safe container or safety deposit box off site. Other documents that should be kept in these containers include copies of the birth certificates, social security cards, insurance policies, passports, bank account information and car insurance information.
Protect family heirlooms
Renting a security deposit box at a bank to hold family heirlooms and treasures is a small cost for protecting them from fire damage. Homeowners can contact a bank to rent one of these boxes.
Have contact information ready and available
Always keep contact information for your insurance company, utility companies, local human service organizations, bank and friends and relatives in a safe place. In the event of a fire, you could lose all financial records, important documents and contact information if they aren’t kept in a fire-safe container or safety deposit box.
Hiring a smoke and water damage pro
There are companies that specialize in water and smoke damage remediation services for the home. These companies are staffed with professional technicians and contractors that have extensive experience in removing mold, mildew, bacteria and other microorganisms that are prevalent in these environments.
Hiring a professional water and smoke damage remediation service is important for restoring a home after a fire. Professional companies can provide immediate assistance once entry is allowed back into the premises. These companies understand the permits and inspections that are required in your area and will work in accordance to all building regulations and codes.
Homeowners should use caution when hiring a smoke and water remediation service. A house fire can you leave you feeling desperate for help, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look around and compare estimates. You can check reviews on smoke and water damage specialists in your area on Angie’s List.