What To Do After a House Fire



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A house fire is a terrifying experience. From the safety concerns of family members to dealing with the damage and the emotional aftermath, a homeowner will have a lot to deal with after the flames have been put out.

Read below on the steps to take and what to keep in mind if you ever find yourself in this devastating situation.

What to do after a house fire checklist

Safety First
What To Do Immediately

What To Do In the First Week Following

Other Considerations

Safety First

The first thing to do is call 911, provide first aid if needed, and let family and friends know that you’re safe. Anyone with serious injuries or burns should get medical attention immediately.

Only re-enter a fire-damaged home once authorities say it is safe. The fire department will ensure the water, electricity, and gas are safe to use; if they are not, they will have these utilities turned off or disconnected before they leave. Do not try to turn them back on by yourself.

A home fire can cause severe damage to the house itself and everything else inside the home. Even things not damaged by fire may be ruined by smoke or water used to extinguish the fire. Firefighters may also have broken windows and cut holes in the roof or walls to fight the fire.

It is essential to know that your safety and health can still be at risk even after the fire has been put out. So very cautious if you enter the home and touch any fire-damaged items.

If the home is not livable after the fire, contact your police department to let them know. You are required by your insurance company to protect the house as much as possible from further damage, either from weather conditions or unlawful entry, so you may need to board up windows and doors.

What To Do Immediately

Contact Your Insurance Agent

Contact your insurance provider right away for guidance on next steps. From home cleaning companies to replacing personal items and finding temporary housing, your policy may cover some or all of these post-fire expenses.

If you do not have insurance, the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, community groups, religious organizations, or local emergency services may be able to help you.

Secure Temporary Accommodations

If the fire has made your home unlivable, your homeowner's insurance may cover some or all of your temporary housing costs under the policy’s “loss of use” coverage. This coverage includes only the living expenses you incur above the regular expenses of living in your home, including temporary housing costs. Your insurance company will confirm your coverage spending limits and timelines.

A local disaster relief service, like the American Red Cross or Salvation Army, can also assist you in finding a place to stay and with other securing other necessities like food and clothing.

Retrieve Important Records and Documents

When the fire department deems it safe to enter your home to retrieve personal belongings, be sure to gather important documents, if they survived the fire, such as passports, birth and marriage certificates, insurance policies, and more. If any of these were destroyed or lost in the fire, you will need to get them replaced.

Also, report, cancel, and replace any credit cards not in your possession due to the fire.

Unfortunately, it’s common for strangers to rummage through house fire remains, so make it a priority to retrieve your valuables and important documents as soon as it is safe.

Take Pictures of Your Home and Valuables

When you regain access, take photos of the home’s exterior and interior to show the extent of damage caused by the fire. Document the losses as you go through the remnants of the fire, including damaged valuables, such as expensive artwork, jewelry, and other high-priced items.

Contact Your Mortgage Lender or Landlord

Reach out to your mortgage lender to let them know about the fire. If you are a renter, inform your landlord of the situation immediately.

Save Receipts

Hold onto receipts and record all money spent related to the fire loss. These receipts may be required by your insurance company and when claiming losses on your tax return.

Keep a log of all expenses for lodging, eating meals out, medical fees, and all other costs incurred, which would not have been if the fire didn't happen.

What To Do In the First Week Following

Create an Inventory List of What Was Inside the Home

Make a comprehensive list of all valuables, furniture, personal belongings, decor, clothing, appliances, and everything else you can think of in the home at the time of the fire.

Also, look through past photos saved on your phone, computer, and social networks that might show rooms and the items in each as they were before the fire. These photos will refresh your memory of things, especially valuables, and serve as proof to your insurance company. Any pictures that show the quality of your home’s finishings, like having wood floors instead of carpet and quartz countertops instead of Formica, will come in handy for this purpose.

Replace Important Documents

If you lost important documents and certificates in the fire, start the process to obtain replacements. This includes passports, birth certificates, divorce papers, auto registration, titles and deeds, social security or Medicare cards, stocks and bonds, wills, medical records, warranties, tax returns, citizenship papers, and more.

If you have burnt money, handle it as little as possible and place each bill in plastic wrap to help preserve it. If money is only partially burnt and half or more of the bill is still OK, you can take it to your regional Federal Reserve Bank to get it replaced. Review this list to find the branch closest to you.

You can also send burnt money to the US Treasury to get it replaced. More information on how to do this can be found here.

Obtain Reports

The fire department will issue a fire report on the incident with details on what caused the fire and the resulting damage. You will need a copy of this report for insurance purposes and if you decide to sell the home instead of rebuilding it.

If anyone in your home received medical attention from the fire, be sure to obtain copies of those medical reports.

Don't Throw Anything Away

The insurance company will send out a claims adjuster to document the damage and may need to do so multiple times during the claims process. Therefore, hold onto all reports, lists, photos, etc., and wait to toss anything out until the insurance company tells you it's OK to do so. It’s also smart to take your own pictures of all documentation in case anything gets lost or misplaced during this process.

Don’t Start Repairs Without Your Insurance Company’s Agreement

If the house is not declared a total loss, your insurance will typically allow for remediation for things like water damage fairly quickly. This is to avoid further property damage during the claim process.

However, the insurance company may have preferred vendors for certain repairs, or your policy might state that you need their permission before contracting for these jobs and for insurance to cover it.

Other Considerations

Do NOT Stop Paying Your Mortgage

Unfortunately, a house fire is not a reason to withhold mortgage payments unless you have received permission, in writing, from your mortgage lender to pause your payments.

House Will Likely Have 2 Types of Damage

The home will have obvious damage from the fire, but there will also likely be water damage from the firefighters' efforts to put the fire out. So be cautious of potential issues like mold and more, which can lead to health problems too. If you re-enter the home after the fire (with permission) to salvage your belongings, take the proper safety precautions to protect your health.

Contact Your Local Taxing Authority

If the house fire was extensive, it could take a long time before it can be restored, and you are able to move back in. Meanwhile, you will still be charged for property taxes based on your home’s pre-fire value.

You can contact your local taxing authority and request that the home's value for property tax purposes can be re-assessed to reflect its post-fire value. If this request is granted, the money saved can be put towards other expenses for repairs and/or if you decide to sell your home.

Get Care for Mental Health

In addition to potential physical injuries, experiencing a house fire can lead to significant mental and emotional distress. Losing your home in a fire, which is a place of security, comfort, and safety, plus losing irreplaceable items like photo albums, family heirlooms, and other treasured objects, comes with an overwhelming sense of loss that can severely affect one's mental health.

A house fire is devastating, so it is essential to seek counseling for you and your family. There are many free or low-cost resources you can turn to for mental health support, including therapists, social workers, support groups, speaking with other house fire survivors, and more.

Get Repair Quotes

Obtaining quotes for repairs, even if you don't plan to re-occupy the house, is essential in helping you understand the total monetary damage the fire did to your home. Having these quotes in hand will make you more equipped for negotiations with your insurance company on the payout for the claim.

You Do Not Need to Accept the First Insurance Settlement Offered

If your insurance company's settlement amount is too low compared to the damage, you can push back and negotiate for a more satisfactory amount.

If the insurance company does not bulge during negotiations, you may need to hire a claims adjuster to help you get the total amount you deserve.

Decide to Rebuild or Sell

After a fire, it can be traumatic for many homeowners to think of living in the home again, or some may choose to move on for other reasons. Just because you receive an insurance payout for the home, it does not mean you are required to rebuild. As long as your remaining mortgage balance is paid off with the proceeds, moving on may make the most sense for your situation.

If you would like to sell your fire-damaged property, there are people that would buy it. To learn more about this process, check out our FAQs on Selling a Fire-Damaged Home. You can also request a free no-obligation cash offer for your fire-damaged property here.

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Rae Hoffman

Rae Hoffman is the owner of AMI House Buyers and a seasoned real estate investor with a heavy focus on the Houston & Katy, Texas areas. She has done numerous flips, has owned multiple rental properties, and is also a licensed real estate agent in the state of Texas. She is heavily experienced in the areas of foreclosures, water damaged properties, burnouts, and inherited properties, and works with distressed homeowners in all types of situations to help them understand their options and find potential solutions.


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