What to Do After a House Fire (Free After a Fire Checklist)

According to the Red Cross, 80% of Americans don’t realize that small house fires are the single most common disaster in the United States. House fire aftermath can cause an immense amount of damage throughout the entire house, inside and out.

So, how do houses catch on fire? There are a lot of risks around the home that people may take for granted. Whether you are dealing with a small kitchen fire, an electrical fire, a dryer fire, or maybe even an outdoor grill fire; there are a ton of things that can start a fire and many different classes of fire.

Even in rooms that were never engulfed in flames, the high heat can melt plastic, cause your paint to blister, cause severe stress to your glass windows, and more. Appliances, equipment, and personal belongings that are still standing are likely ruined beyond repair.

After you have suffered from a house fire, there are so many different things you are dealing with that it’s hard to know what to do next. Are there things you need to do for insurance? Is it safe once the fire has been put out? Will you ever get any of your belongings back after the restoration process?

It’s perfectly normal to be confused and uncertain about where to turn or what to do. This seven step ‘After a Fire Checklist‘ walks you through exactly what to do after a house fire and will help you get started on the road to recovery.

What To Do After a House Fire (7 Steps)

1. Check With Your Family

This may seem obvious, but in the moment it’s easy to be overwhelmed and confused, forgetting to do even the most basic things. If you weren’t alone when the fire happened, check in and make sure everyone is ok. Depending on the size of the fire and the age of those involved, it can be very traumatic.

Then take a moment and contact any family members that may not have been with you. Let them know what happened and the status of any other friends and family that are with you. If none of your family members are local, call a close friend. You will want to have some support as you begin the fire restoration process.

If you are renting your home, make sure you also contact the property owners immediately so that they can make decisions about the property and begin the recovery process.

2. House Fire Insurance

A common question to ask is what to do after a house fire with insurance. The answer to that is to not assume that someone else is going to contact your homeowners insurance company. This is the first thing that you need to do after you have contacted your family. This will start the process of event documentation and begin the insurance claim process.

From there your insurance agent should be experienced in dealing with property emergencies and can talk you through things like emergency lodging and living expenses. They will also get you in touch with restoration companies that can do fire damage restoration and smoke damage repair.

The best restoration companies like Jenkins Restorations will work directly with your insurance company to handle the fire damage cleanup. Be clear on who is going to pay for different pieces of the restoration process. Make sure you have physical, written copies of every agreement.

Make sure to get a copy of the fire report. You can usually get fire reports from your local fire department. The report may be helpful in providing more information for your insurance agency.

Help After House Fire No Insurance

While most homeowners have homeowners insurance, not everybody does. If you do have a mortgage then you’ll still be liable for paying back the loan plus any interest payments.

If you don’t have homeowners’ insurance, another factor that may come into play is your personal property.  If your house catches fire, homeowners insurance may provide coverage for loss if personal items within your home. Without home insurance, you’re left to absorb that cost on your own.

There are other options including charities, or hiring an attorney if the fire was not your fault.

3. Figure Out If Your Home is Salvageable

Have you ever wondered how hot a house fire is? According to Ready.gov, the average temperature of a house fire gets between 100 degrees at the floor level and 600 degrees at eye level; hot enough to scorch your lungs if you inhale it!

Small house fireThat sort of heat can cause structural damage to your home, leaving lingering issues. Your insurance company will most likely send out an adjuster to evaluate the fire damage to your home. They will decide if your home can be saved, or if it must be demolished and rebuilt.

If your house has been damaged rather than destroyed in the fire, it will need professional fire damage cleanup. Not only will direct damage from the fire need to be repaired or replaced, but heat, smoke, and soot can cause damage to your home and your possessions. On top of that, you may now actually require water mitigation to prevent or reduce the amount of water damage that happens after the firefighters put the fire out.

Fire damage to your property often goes beyond what the eye can see. Professionals like Jenkins Restorations have IICRC certified Fire and Smoke Restoration Technicians who know exactly where to start.

4. Determining If Your Home is Safe

Do not enter a house or other building that has been damaged by a fire until the fire department has made sure that it’s safe to enter your home. Fires can start again even if they appear to be out and there is almost always hidden damage. Roofs and floors may be damaged and could fall down when you’re inside.

On top of that, there are health risks associated with inhaling smoke and soot, especially for a long period of time.

When you are given clearance to safely re-enter your home, make sure that you focus on retrieving valuables and important paperwork such as birth certificates, medical records, and passports. Do not bring food or cosmetic items with you, the presence of high heat or smoke in these items can cause you harm. Only bring out prescription medication packaging so that you can get replacements. Don’t take or ingest medicines from a burned house.

5. Organize Your Possessions

Separating your damaged possessions from your undamaged ones will make it easier for you to make a list of damaged items for your insurance company. Having a list of all of your personal belongings is very helpful in this situation. These lists often contain receipts and bank statements of purchased items. Providing photos along with the list can help greatly when filing the claim.

6. Saving Undamaged Possessions

Either you or the restoration company needs to sort through your possessions. In many situations, there will be salvageable items in the wreckage, particularly if you saved certain items or documents like social security cards in a fire-proof box. Any items that are not damaged or destroyed should be put in a safe place, even if it means putting them in storage.

You will find that household items the fire did not burn up may be ruined by smoke, soot, or the water used to put out the flames. Anything you want to save will need to be carefully and potentially professionally cleaned.

7. Find Somewhere to Stay During the Fire Damage Restoration Process

Most homeowner’s insurance policies will pay for the food, clothing, and shelter that you and your family may need for a specified period of time. Hopefully the fire didn’t happen during the holidays, and you can contact local disaster relief services such as the American Red Cross, your church, or family and friends who can help you find a safe place to stay while restoration services are in progress.

Water Damage From Fire Fighting Efforts

When firefighters arrive, the water they use to extinguish the flames can also cause significant water damage and mold growth unless you work quickly to prevent it. Between this and the fire damage, you’ll most certain want to call a professional restoration team.

They’ll locate a number of issues and dangers, including:

  • Particularly hazardous areas in the property
  • Areas that will require more intensive restoration efforts
  • Parts of the home that likely suffered water damage during the firefighting process
  • Areas that suffered smoke damage and need more intensive cleaning
  • Parts of the home that must be tarped or boarded up to protect the home from further damage

If necessary, the restoration contractors will then begin boarding and tarping areas to protect your remaining belongings inside the building and prevent further damage.

Frequently Asked Questions:

If you are injured or unsure if you’ve suffered any injuries it’s important to get examined by a medical professional.  They can assess and treat you as needed.

Find a safe place to stay. Regardless of the damage, you likely won’t be able to stay in your own home. If staying with friends or family isn’t an option at the moment, be sure to talk to your local disaster relief agency, such as the American Red Cross or Salvation Army. Both organizations can assist you in finding a temporary residence.

Prioritize your mental health too. Many people are resilient but this can still affect you.  This is particularly true of children. It’s important to cope in a healthy way; be patient as you work through any stress caused by this event. If you or others in your family are having difficulty with this, get the support you need.

Even after a house fire, it’s important to continue to protect your home. You may not be able to stay there, but as the owner you still need to protect it as much as possible from both weather and unlawful entry.

Most restoration companies also provide board-up services to prevent possible theft. A proper board-up should include using plywood bolted from inside the dwelling over windows and a security lock can be placed on the front door.

Yes. With most small house fires, such as a kitchen fire, cleaning the soot and smoke is a tough job. Even with what may seem like small fires, can actually cause major damage within minutes.  These incidents can leave lingering odors if not cleaned up properly.

It’s important that the damage is handled within a day or two of the fire, because soot and smoke can leave permanent damage to your home and health. Professionals at Jenkins Restorations have the tools and know-how to restore a property as fast as possible and mitigate the loss.

Taking care of your and your pets is important after experiencing a house fire . Always have your pets checked by a veterinarian after a fire. They can check under their fur for any burns and treat any damage that may be in their lungs due to possible smoke inhalation.

If you don’t have insurance, contact the American Red Cross to help you recover emotionally and financially.  The organization can offer resources to find available shelters as well as tools to help you remain safe after your house fire.

Other ways to help with costs are to call your utility, phone, and internet company and let them know about the fire damage. Don’t pay for any utilities you can’t use, so keep track of what you can eliminate and cancel as soon as you can.

If you caused a fire due to negligence or intentional misconduct, your landlord may have grounds to evict you based on violating the terms of your lease. Most lease agreements include provisions regarding tenant responsibilities, which often include not causing damage to the property or engaging in behavior that endangers the safety of others.

Living in a House After a Fire

House fires can be massive disasters that devastate your home and family. Disasters like these can cause a great deal of unsettled feelings, and your emotional care and recovery are important too.

Make sure you take the proper immediate steps to take care of yourself and your family. It might be necessary to seek counselling, particularly in the case of children. Be gentle on yourself and your family members as you begin to heal emotionally from the struggle that you are all sharing.

Is it Safe to Live in a House with Smoke and Fire Damage?

After a fire is taken care of, it’s understandable that you would forget about getting the smoke damage removed. It is important for your health and safety that you get rid of any soot or other debris left behind so that you don’t have any future problems with poor indoor air quality, that could lead to health issues. It is not safe to move back into your home and live under those conditions until all of the smoke and fire damage has been removed.

Health Risks After House Fire

After a house fire, if you do not clean up correctly, you may experience breathing issues, skin issues, eye irritation, along with long term risks such as cancer, or a heart attack. As tempting as it may be to clean soot and smoke damages on your own, simple things like wiping smoke off surfaces may further the damage.

How Long After a Fire can you Move Back in?

How long after a fire can you move back in depends on how much damage there is to your home. If the fire caused little damage, then you should be able to return to your home within a short time. However, if the fire damaged your home extensively, it may take several months before you can re-inhabit your home. Below are examples of what to expect with time to move back in for a small, mid sized, and large fire.

Small House Fire

When experiencing a small house fire, repairs likely won’t take much time, especially if it’s confined to one room. The main concern will be the removal of soot and smells caused by the fire.

Your Fire repair team will know how long the restoration process will take.

Mid Sized Fire

If your home has suffered damages as a result of a medium-sized fire, it will still need repair and cleanup. There may be wall, floor, furniture, and other property damages. The time it will take to repair your home will largely depend on the severity of the damage.

Large Fire

A large fire will cause extensive damage to your home. The process of repairing and rebuilding will take a significant amount of time, typically at minimum several weeks, with the likelihood of it taking several months for repairs.

What can be Salvaged after a House Fire?

Although house fires are certainly damaging, there are some things that can be salvaged after a fire and the various damages that come with it.

Cloths such as clothes or curtains, as long as they didn’t themselves catch fire, can be salvaged after a fire. These items are washable and can just be tossed into a washing machine to clean the smoke and soot.

Other salvageable items include hard nonporous items, such as glass and metals are the most resistant when it comes to fires. They can often be cleaned and reused after a fire.

On the other hand, porous items like clothing, upholstery, and books are more difficult to salvage. These usually require special contents cleaning methods in order to remove soot and smoke damage.

Rebuilding a House After a Fire

Life after a house fire is difficult, but not impossible. It is important to have a  Fire Remediation teams like the ones at Jenkins Restorations, for a full home inspection after a fire. Your restoration company will then coordinate with the officials at your local Fire Department in order to start the work as soon as the house fire has been extinguished.

Once the fire and smoke damage restoration process has begun, your fire restoration technicians will board-up the walls and seal the roof and windows. The top priority should be to secure your belongings. They will work with teams of professionals to clean your clothes, carpets, and furniture. After they remove the mess and debris, they will work to remove any bad smells and odors from smoke damage in your house.

If you have home or renter’s insurance, you will be compensated and may be able to rebuild or repair your home at little to no cost to you. It is always important to have insurance coverage for your home; you may end up regretting it if you don’t. Jenkins Restorations works closely with your insurance carrier to help coordinate your claim and help you get your property and life back together. You will want to check with your restoration company to see if they can do the same.

Fire restoration before and after

Fire restoration before and after

When rebuilding, consider installing fire prevention measures such as heat-activated sprinklers. These can help save you from a house fire in the future. These systems are highly efficient and will significantly reduce the damage to your home in the event of a fire.

Where Can I Get Help After a House Fire?

If you are wondering how to get help after a house fire, contact Jenkins Restorations. Follow the things to do after a house fire listed above, and call our 24/7 emergency line- 888.450.6580 -to help get your home back to normal. With decades of experience in fire and smoke damage restoration, we will quickly restore your property to its’ original condition…or better!

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