Recovery From a Fire
Immediately After the Fire
Immediately after the fire, you may be wondering why there are broken windows and holes in the ceilings and roof of your home. To explain this, you must know that as a fire burns, it moves upward, then outward. Ventilating by removing windows and cutting holes in the roof stops that damaging outward movement, and enables the fire department to fight the fire more efficiently, resulting in less damage in the long run. The fire department will also create holes in the walls to be sure, ABSOLUTELY SURE, that ALL the fire is out and that there is no hidden fire inside the walls or partitions. In some instances, the area immediately surrounding the fire will be roped off or posted with signs directing persons to keep out. These are placed at the scene by order of the Fire Chief who is charged by law to determine the cause and origin of every fire. When these signs are posted, do not enter the premises for any reason without permission from the officer in charge. If you have other questions about the suppression operation or the fire, please don’t hesitate to call the fire department for more information.
Securing the Site
The site of the fire needs to be protected from further damage by weather, theft or vandalism. If you are the owner, it becomes your responsibility to protect your property from further loss and see that any holes are covered against rain and entry. All outside doors to your home should be locked or secured. The fire department will help with this activity.
You should also contact your insurance agent or company to report the loss. He or she must be notified of the fire and may also be able to help you find resources to make immediate repairs. If you cannot reach your agent or need professional assistance in boarding up your home, a general contractor, fire damage restoration firm or fire service firm can help. Check your yellow pages. If the fire is not under investigation and you plan to leave the fire site, try to remove any valuables remaining in the building. Do not leave until the site has been secured and your valuables have been removed. If the fire department is investigating the fire, they will have a police officer accompany you while you remove valuables from your property and they will inventory the property you take. If you are a tenant, contact the resident manager or the owner. See that your personal belongings are secure within the building or move them to another location, such as the home of a relative or friend.
Leaving your Home
Whether the decision to leave your home is your own or based on the fire officer’s judgment that the residence is unsafe, there are certain things you will need to know.
- Contact the local police. They will keep an eye on the property during your absence.
- If you are insured under a package homeowner’s or tenant’s policy, a section of your coverage may pay for the extra costs of temporary housing such as a hotel.
- If you are in need of immediate funds, ask your insurance agent about how soon you might get an advance on your eventual insurance claim settlement.
- Do NOT attempt to open your safe at this time. A safe involved in a fire may hold the intense heat for several hours. If the door is opened before the safe has cooled down, the entering air, combined with the high inside temperature, may cause the contents to burst into flames.
Locate the Following Items to Take With You:
- Vital medicines such as insulin or blood pressure regulating drugs
- Eyeglasses, hearing aids, prosthetic devices or other personal aids
- Valuables such as credit cards, checkbooks, insurance policies, savings account books, money, etc.
Notify the Following Parties of Your Location:
- Your insurance agent or adjuster
- Your mortgage company - Inform them also of the fire
- Your employer
- Family and friends
- Your children’s school(s)
- Your attorney
- Your post office - Have them either hold or forward your mail depending on the length of time you expect to be relocated.
- Delivery services such as those for newspapers
- Utility companies - Including telephone, heat, power, and water
Wash your canned goods in detergent and water. Do the same for food in jars. If labels come off, be sure you mark the contents on the can or jar with a grease pencil.
DO NOT USE CANNED GOODS WHEN CANS HAVE BULGED OR ARE DENTED OR RUSTED.
If your home freezer has stopped running, you may still be able to save the frozen food: KEEP THE FREEZER CLOSED!! Your freezer has enough insulation to keep food frozen for at least one day, perhaps as many as two or three days. If the food in your freezer is still frozen and power will not be restored soon, try to arrange storing it in a neighbor’s or relative’s freezer. When transporting, wrap the frozen food in newspapers and blankets or use insulated boxes.
If your food has thawed, observe the following precautions: Fruits can be re-frozen only if they still taste and smell good. Otherwise, if the fruits are not spoiled, they can be used at once. Do not re-freeze vegetables if they have thawed completely! Re-freeze only if there are ice crystals in the vegetables. If your vegetables have thawed and cannot be used soon, throw them away. If you have any doubt about whether the vegetables are spoiled, throw them away! Don’t take a chance on food poisoning!
MEAT THAT HAS THAWED SHOULD NEVER BE RE-FROZEN. If it cannot be used immediately, dispose of it.
Always wear rubber gloves when cleaning. Use caution! SOLUTIONS MAY BE FLAMMABLE. DO NOT MIX DIFFERENT CLEANING SOLUTIONS TOGETHER. Certain combinations of solutions can produce dangerous gases.
Clothing- Smoke odor and soot can often be washed from your clothing. The following formula will often work for clothing that can be bleached: 4 - 6 tbsp. tri-sodium phosphate (or 2 tbsp. sodium hypochlorite) 1 cup Clorox® or any household chlorine bleach 1 gallon water Mix well, add clothes, rinse with clear water. Dry well. (Note – tri-sodium phosphate and sodium hypochlorite can be found at any hardware store.) To remove mildew, wash the fresh stain with soap and water, then rinse and dry in the sun. If the stain isn’t gone, use lemon juice and salt, 1 tbsp. bleach to 1 pt. lukewarm water, or diluted solution of household chlorine bleach. TEST COLORED GARMENTS BEFORE USING ANY TREATMENT! If you are taking wool, silk or rayon garments to the cleaners, first remove trimmings, shoulder pads, etc. Then if the garment is damp or wet, dry it in a well ventilated area. Shake and brush well, and take the garment to the cleaners as soon as possible.
Cooking Utensils- Your pots, pans, flatware, etc. should be washed with soapy water, rinsed, and then polished with a fine powdered cleaner. You can polish copper and brass with special polish, salt sprinkled on a piece of lemon or salt sprinkled on a cloth saturated with vinegar.
Electrical Appliances- Don’t run wet appliances until you have had a serviceman check them. If the Fire Department or Utility Company turned off the gas or electric power during the fire, do not request to have service restored until a qualified electrician has checked all the circuits - DO NOT TRY TO DO IT YOURSELF. To remove odor from your refrigerator or freezer, wash the inside with a solution of baking soda and water, or use one cup of vinegar or household ammonia to one gallon of water. Baking soda in an open container, or a piece of charcoal can be placed in the refrigerator or freezer to absorb odor.
Flooring and Rugs - When water gets underneath linoleum, it can cause odors and warp the wood floor. If water has penetrated underneath, remove the linoleum and call your linoleum or flooring dealer for suggestions for a solvent to loosen the linoleum cement without damaging the underlayment. After you have removed the linoleum, let the floor dry thoroughly before replacing any covering. Rugs and carpets should be dried as soon as possible and allowed to dry thoroughly. Lay them flat, and expose them to a circulation of warm, dry air. A fan turned on the rugs will speed drying. Make sure the rugs are thoroughly dry; even if the surface seems dry, any moisture remaining at the base of the tufts can quickly rot a rug. Throw rugs can be cleaned by beating, sweeping or vacuuming, and then shampooing. For information on cleaning and preserving carpets, call your carpet dealer or installer.
Mattresses - Reconditioning an innerspring mattress at home is very difficult, if not impossible. Your mattress can probably be renovated by a company that builds or repairs mattresses. If you must use your mattress temporarily, put it out in the sun to dry. Then cover it with rubber or plastic sheeting. It is almost impossible to get smoke odor out of pillows. The feathers and foam retain the odor.
Books- Books can be dried by placing them on end, with the pages separated. Then they should be piled and pressed to prevent the pages from crinkling. Alternating drying and pressing will help prevent mildew until the books are thoroughly dry. A fan turned on the books will help them dry. If your books are very damp, sprinkle cornstarch or talc between the pages, leave for several hours, and then brush off.
Locks and Hinges- Locks (especially iron locks) should be taken apart, wiped with WD-40® or kerosene and then oiled thoroughly. If locks cannot be removed, squirt machine oil through a bolt opening or keyhole, and work the knob to distribute the oil. Hinges should also be thoroughly cleaned and oiled.
Leather- Wipe your leather goods with a damp cloth, then with a dry cloth. Stuff your purses and shoes with newspapers to retain shape while drying. Leave wet suitcases open. Leather goods should be dried away from heat and sun. When leather goods are dry, clean with saddle soap. Rinse leather and suede jackets in cold water and dry away from heat and sun.
Soot and Smoke Odor The following solution can be used to remove soot and smoke odor from walls, furniture and floors: 4 - 6 tbsp. tri-sodium phosphate (or 2 tbsp. sodium hypochlorite) 1 cup Lysol® disinfectant or any chlorine bleach 1 gallon water After washing, rinse with clean water and dry thoroughly.
Walls- Ceilings and walls may be washed down while wet. Use a mild soap or detergent and wash a small area at a time, working from the ceiling down. Then rinse with clean water immediately. Your wallpaper can also be repaired. Use a commercial paste to re-paste loose edges or sections. Contact your wallpaper dealer or installer for information on wallpaper cleaners. Washable wallpaper can be washed like an ordinary wall, but care must be taken not to soak the paper. Work from the top to the bottom to prevent streaking.
Wood- Wood furniture or fixtures can be treated in the following way: • Clear off mud and dirt. • Remove drawers and let them dry thoroughly so there will be no sticking when you replace them. • Scrub with a stiff brush and a cleaning solution. • Wet wood can decay and mold, so DRY THOROUGHLY. Open doors and windows for good ventilation (weather permitting). Turn on your furnace or air conditioner, if necessary. • If mold forms, wipe the wood with a cloth soaked in a mixture of water and kerosene or borax dissolved in hot water. • DO NOT DRY THE FURNITURE IN THE SUN. The wood will warp and twist out of shape. • To remove white spots or film, rub the wood surface with a cloth soaked in a mixture of ½ cup household ammonia and ½ cup water. Then wipe dry and polish with wax, or rub the surface with a cloth soaked in a mixture of ½ cup turpentine and ½ cup linseed oil. You can also rub the wood surface with a 4/0 steel wool pad dipped in liquid polishing wax, wipe with a soft cloth and then buff.
If money you have kept in your home is mutilated but less than half burned, meaning more than half of the bill is intact, you can trade the burned bills for new ones through the US Treasury Department.
If your U.S. Savings Bonds have been mutilated or destroyed, information can be found on how to replace them at the US Treasury Department.
Here is a check list of documents you will need to replace if they have been destroyed:
- Titles to Deeds
- Stocks and Bonds
- Medical Records
- Payment Books
- Income Tax Records
- Auto Registration Title Cards
- Citizenship Papers
- Prepaid Burial Contracts
- Birth Certificates
- Driver’s Licenses
- Bank Books
- Insurance Policies
- Military Papers (Discharge)
- Social Security Cards
- Marriage and /or Divorce Papers
- Credit Cards
- Animal Registration Papers