It’s a hard time, yet remember to tell friends and relatives what has happened and that you are safe. If you move to temporary housing, begin notifying the people on your emergency contact list. Additionally, be sure to call the police department and tell them if you will not be in the home for an extended period of time.
NOTE: You may need to make immediate arrangements to secure your property. Ask the fire department about service companies available in your area.
Also consider alerting the following companies about the fire and your temporary change of address:
- any delivery services (water, newspapers)
- Post Office (to change your mailing address)
- Utility companies
- Your bank
- Your insurance company
- Credit card companies
- Social Security Administration
- Neighbors (at least one of them)
Some of these organizations may have next-step instructions for you. You can contact any of these groups for information and possible assistance.
- TheAmerican Red Cross
- Civic organizations
- Department of Social Services
- Local humane society
- Your insurance agency
- Nonprofit crisis counseling centers
- Religious organizations
- Salvation Army
You can ask the American Red Cross and other volunteer organizations for help with your immediate needs, such as:
- Cleanup kit
- Hearing aids or other prosthetic devices
- Other essential items
- Other physical aids
- Pet needs
For temporary housing - get this info:
Date and length of stay at
American Red Cross shelter location (866) GET-INFO [(866) 438-4636]
Other local relief shelter and phone number:
- Hotel/Shelter Name
- Room #
Friend or family member's house
Provide appropriate people with your temporary housing and contact information and, if necessary, an alternate contact (phone and e-mail) in case you are unavailable.
Proof of Loss: The insurance company may require a “proof of loss” form, as well as documents relating to your claim, such as medical and home repair bills, bids and receipts. Be prepared to show photos that detail every room in your house before the damage.
No Photos? Lost your photos or inventory in the fire? Contact relatives and friends - they may have photos from holidays, birthdays, dinners and other events you hosted in your home. Ask them for copies to show your agent.
TIP: Tax-Deductible: Some fire losses are tax deductible. Keep receipts of what you spend for repairs or replacements, as well as those for living expenses, to help calculate your return. Contact your local IRS office for publication 547 (Tax Information on Disasters, Casualty Losses and Thefts). By filing Form 1045, (Application for Tentative Refund), you may be able to receive a quick refund. Check with your tax attorney, insurance agent or accountant.
Salvaging Your Belongings
Here are a few things to consider as you begin the process of re-entering your house. This is NOT a comprehensive list, but it can help you get started.
- Be safe, be smart.
- After a fire, homes can be a dangerous environment because of structural damage or electrical or other hazards.
- You should wait until authorities have declared it is safe to return to your home. Then, work with local authorities and/or your insurance agent regarding re-entering your home.
- Using graph paper, sketch a site plan of your property that notes the location of gas, electricity and water meters, if you know where they are located. Take this with you when you return to your home in case you need to turn the utilities off.
- Mentally prepare.
- Know that this process is emotional and very tiring.
- If you have a hard time coping with the destruction, ask for help. Relief organizations often offer access to or info about counseling services.
- Re-entering your home should happen during daylight hours for maximum visibility. Artificial light may not be available due to power loss.
- When going through the house with an agent or fire official, find out what you need to wear and bring.
- Ask what you will need to note, and what you are allowed to touch (if anything), and let them know you will be recording the visit with a video recorder and/or camera (that you have borrowed from a friend in case yours was in the fire).
- Gather supplies to bring with you.
- Be sure you bring a backpack to carry your supplies in or something that allows you to be hands-free. Bring garbage bags to carry what you recover or can salvage.
- Wear thick rubber gloves, a dust mask and goggles (to protect your lungs and face), and thick-soled boots.
- Grab your flashlight (even in daylight to help you spot items) and a wooden stick for going through the debris.
- Be careful walking around your property. After a fire, steps and floors may be covered with debris, including nails and broken glass.
- If you see downed lines or sparks, or smell burning with no visible fire, or smell the "rotten eggs" odor that is added to gas, leave immediately and notify the authorities.
- Look for exterior structural damage on the remains of the house.
- Do not go under or near any remaining walls, chimneys, roofs and trees. They may be structurally unsafe.
- Take pictures of EVERYTHING. The pictures will help your insurance claim process. Take pictures/video of the exterior and debris at all angles, all sides no matter what is or isn’t left. Take wide and close-up shots.
- When you walk through your property, if you haven't yet retrieved important documents, attempt to get:
- Personal identification: driver's licenses, Social Security cards, marriage licenses, birth and death certificates
- All insurance information (life, home, health, car)
- Medical/medication information, including eyeglasses, hearing aids or other prosthetic devices
- Valuables, such as credit cards, bank books/account numbers, photos, and jewelry
- Any statements, including mortgage, utilities, and other monthly bills
- When you find your belongings:
- Take a picture of the item before you touch it.
- Place each item in a plastic garbage bag.
- If large objects, like a sofa, are salvageable, cover them with a tarp.
After, make a list of all the items you saw or recovered, their serial numbers and their current condition (i.e. blue couch, water damaged, 3 cushions missing). This will help your insurance claim. Again, take pictures and videotape items.
Hold Everything .
Do not throw away any damaged goods until after an inventory is made. All damages are taken into consideration in developing your insurance claim.
TIP: MakeA Wedding Registry:
"My parents had a house fire that was such a complete loss - there was very little remaining from which to compile an inventory of contents.
To help jog their memories, they went to Target and created a wedding registry, then they walked through the store and scanned the items they lost in the fire.
Granted, the items they lost weren’t exactly the same, but it gave them a printed list of like items to use to create their property claim. We all got a good chuckle about my 45-year-married parents having a “new wedding date”. - Jill A., MN
- Once you have determined what is unsalvageable, find a place to put discards. Make it easily accessible for removal by truck or consider renting a portable trash container.
- Remember to take food and water breaks as you are salvaging. You don’t have to get all the salvaging done in one day. Come back the next day and continue your work.
Determine what cleaning tasks you will undertake or hire professionals to handle.
- Need to clean your clothing or salvaged items?
Cleaning Up:The insurance company may recommend that you clean your items rather than pay to replace them. Understand that the fumes and smoke smell may never be removed from some items. It is up to you to negotiate this with the insurance company.
- Understand that the salvaging and cleaning process can take months.