What to Do After a House Fire: 6 Important Steps to Follow
You bought this house thinking you would spend decades there. The last thing you anticipated was losing everything in a house fire.
But that’s what happened–in what felt like the blink of an eye, all of your worldly possessions and precious memories went up in smoke. You’re trying to wrap your head around the loss, but you’re also trying to start the restoration process. If you have no clue what to do after a house fire, here are six tips to get you started.
1. Find a Place to Stay
Before you do anything else, you need to find a place to stay. If the damage to your home was extensive, then it’s likely unsafe for you to stay in. Add in the fact that house fires can be highly traumatizing for children and pets and it’s a good idea to get some space.
Even if it’s just for a night or a few days, staying somewhere else will give your family some time to recuperate while you plan your next steps.
This could be a hotel, a family member’s home, or a friend’s house. If you don’t have friends or family nearby, or if staying in a hotel isn’t an option, reach out to a local disaster relief agency like the American Red Cross.
2. Contact Your Insurance Agent
Once you have a plan as to where everyone will sleep and eat for a few days, you need to get in touch with your insurance agent ASAP. The sooner you alert your insurance carrier and file a claim, the sooner you can start repairs or begin looking for a new home. In addition, this will give you access to loss of use funds, which will cover your living expenses while you find your footing again. These are especially useful if you lost your credit or debit cards to the flames.
3. Contact the Police
Your next phone call is to your local police department. You might not think you need to call the police if there was no foul play involved in your house fire, but that’s not really why you’re calling them.
You’re calling the police because an empty house–even a burnt shell of an empty house–is a magnet for squatters and looters. You want to prevent that possibility by boarding up the doors and windows. If you can’t do it yourself, you can hire professionals to handle it for you. This is also part of your legal obligation to secure your premises. In the eyes of the law (and your insurance policy), you are legally required to take the necessary steps to minimize risk to others on your property. This includes boarding up your property and putting up a temporary fence, as well as contacting the fire department to ensure that the fire is out and there is no further risk of fire.
4. Address Your Finances
Next, you need to address your finances. Unfortunately, financial responsibilities like your mortgage will continue even if your home is destroyed. Many insurance policies will cover mortgages in the event of a fire, but you still need to address other recurring costs, such as:
- Car payments
- Utilities (gas, heat, water, etc.)
- Internet and cable
- Any outstanding debts, like student loans
If your insurance won’t cover these costs, you’ll have to figure out how to pay for them or reduce them. If you won’t be in your house for several months due to repairs, it may be wise to cancel your internet in the meantime.
5. Create a List of Damaged Items
From there, you’ll have to create a list of any items that were damaged or destroyed in the fire, as you’ll need to replace them. If you make a list, you can present it to your insurance to get reimbursed.
You’d be amazed how many things get lost in a fire, from clothing and furniture to cooking supplies to appliances. Most insurance carriers will ask for exact information like the make, model, and the serial number of the items you’re replacing, which can be difficult if you don’t have access to your house. The best way to go about this is to look up your old bank statements from when you bought the items (especially large items like kitchen appliances). Whenever you purchase something, hold onto the receipt so that you can submit it to your insurance company for reimbursement.
You’ll also need to replace certain critical life documents, such as:
- Driver’s license
- Birth certificate
- Social Security card
- Medical records
- Tax records
- Titles and deeds
You’ll need to replace those immediately. Go to your local Secretary of State’s office and your doctor’s office and they can help replace many of these documents. You should also ask your insurance agent about which items are essential to replace. Replace those items first.
6. Get an Advance
Chances are if you had to evacuate your house in a hurry, or if the fire occurred while you were away, you probably didn’t have the opportunity to grab essentials (i.e. toothpaste, clothes, phone chargers, etc.)
Your insurance company will pay to replace them, but if you need to go to work next week and you don’t have a single piece of work clothing, you can’t wait for the claim to process. To help you make up the difference in the meantime, ask your insurance company for an advance against your eventual claim. This is basically a sum taken out of the claim you would have been paid later. You’re not getting less money on the claim, you’re just getting part of the money sooner. Ask your insurance agent to drop off a check where you’re staying, or ask them to prepare a check so you can pick it up.
Keep receipts for everything you buy so that you can be reimbursed, but keep in mind that your insurance will only reimburse equivalent value (don’t spring for pricey clothes, your insurance won’t pay for them).
Don’t Know What to Do After a House Fire?
If you’re trying to figure out what to do after a house fire, you’re probably scared. You’re scrambling to figure out how you can afford this and how you can even begin to deal with the repairs.
Take a deep breath. Let Blackmon Mooring & BMS CAT take a load off your mind. We’ve helped families handle fire damage restoration since 1948. Let us help your family figure out your next steps. Get in touch today to start rebuilding your life.