What to do after a house fire
The sound of a smoke alarm can strike terror into even the bravest person’s heart. Though it can give the warning you need to escape a disaster, it also heralds a potentially deadly situation. Fire departments in the United States respond to a fire every 23 seconds on average. In 2015, about nine lives were lost every day due to fires. Even the home fires that don’t result in any injuries can leave thousands of dollars of damage behind.
Though most people know the basic steps to take for fire preparedness, few probably realize how difficult it can be to recover from a house fire. Stacker researched official recommendations from the U.S. Fire Administration, the Red Cross, and other experts to compile this list of 17 steps you should take after a fire. If a fire does start in your home, take care of yourself, your loved ones and your pets first—you can worry about your property and belongings once everyone is safe and the fire is out. Read on for tips about filing an insurance claim, cleaning up damaged property, and rebuilding after a fire.
As you smell smoke, hear your smoke alarm or see flames, evacuate the building and call 911. A quick response from the fire department can potentially save your home or your life.
Seek medical help immediately if anyone was injured
If you or a loved one has been burned, cool and cover burns with a cold wet compress or clean cloth as soon as possible. Take anyone who is hurt to the hospital immediately to prevent further injury. That includes your pets or livestock: If they were burned or injured in the fire, they need veterinary treatment ASAP.
Let family and friends know you’re OK
Call your family and friends as soon as you can to let them know what happened and that you’re safe. You don’t want them to worry unnecessarily.
Stay out of your damaged home
Just because the flames have been extinguished doesn’t mean it’s safe to re-enter your home. Wait until local authorities give you the OK to go back inside and check out the damage. If the structural integrity has been weakened by the fire, you could be putting yourself back in harm’s way.
Secure the site
If your home is damaged enough that you need to live somewhere else for a while, you’ll want to lock it up before you leave. Bad weather, vandals and thieves can cause further damage to your property. Remove all remaining valuables from the property, cover any openings created by the fire and lock all the doors before you leave. You can also call your local police department to let them know that the home will be sitting empty until it can be repaired.
Get help from local disaster relief services
Call your landlord
If you rent your home, let your landlord know about the fire and any damage to his or her property as soon as possible.
Contact your insurance company
You’ll want to get in touch with your insurance company right away to find out what you need to do to file a claim ASAP. They might have you make a list of everything that was damaged in the fire or take photos of the damage to your property. You can also ask for an advance against your claim to help pay for supplies you need right away.
Replace important documents lost in the fire
When you hear your smoke alarm beeping, you don’t want to waste any time grabbing your belongings: Just get out of the building as quickly as possible. That means that many important documents might be damaged in a fire. Contact the appropriate agencies and companies to replace your driver’s license, car registration, insurance policies, passports, birth certificate, Social Security card, credit cards, titles to deeds, medical records, income tax papers, and any other important documents that were lost in the fire.
Save your receipts for any spending related to the fire
If you have to pay out of pocket for lodging, supplies and other necessities, save your receipts: These costs may be covered by your insurance company. You might also need them to write off the losses on your taxes.