Fire is something we all dread, especially if it affects your home. But if the worst has happened and you’ve had a fire and your house, what do you do? No doubt you’ll be under enormous stress, but perhaps these simple but important steps can help to guide you through the process.
Is your home habitable?
Once the fire has been extinguished, the Emergency Services will tell you whether or not the building is safe; if it isn’t they will inform the local Building Control Officer. In the worst case scenario where the fire has spread throughout the building the property may have to be demolished. Help and emotional support are usually called to the scene through the Volunteers of the Fire and Emergency Support Service (part of the British Red Cross.
Secure the property
As soon as the Emergency Services have left, you are then responsible for your property. It’s important to call your insurance company and report the fire straight away, then arrange some temporary accommodation with relatives, friends or in a hotel. Remove all valuables, pack some clothes and close all doors and windows, or board them up if you feel the house is a security risk.
Report the fire to your insurance company
Protect your house from further damage by weather, theft or vandalism. If leaving the home, make sure outside doors can be locked and made secure. If possible, close and lock all windows. If you have to leave the property, let the local police know so they can keep an eye on it. If you’re renting the property, contact your estate agent or landlord and report the fire. If you’re leaving the house, take as many valuables with you as you can. This includes your driving licence and passport, any prescription medicines, hearing aids, and prosthetic devices. Also, remember to take your credit cards, insurance policies, money and jewellery.
Contact electricity, gas and water suppliers
Your utility supplies (electricity, gas, water) may have been damaged in the fire, or disconnected following it. If this is the case, report this to your suppliers and arrange for any repairs and reconnections. Under no circumstances should you attempt to reconnect or turn on the supply by yourself.
To get reconnected,
Some of your home’s electrical wiring may have been damaged so hire an electrician to check this as well as all your appliances and your power supply.
If your gas, water or electric supply has been disconnected, the electrician can reconnect when safe. Do not attempt to do this yourself.
Get the local building inspector to check for any structural damage caused by the fire.
Keep all receipts for what you spend for your insurance claim.
Your insurance claim
Draw up an inventory of all household items that have been damaged or destroyed by the fire, along with repair estimates, and complete the insurance claim form. The inventory will help speed up the claim when the loss assessor makes his inspection.
Your temporary address
As soon as you can, notify the following people of your new address including
Family and friends
Your children’s schools
The Post Office, so they can hold or forward your mail
Your telephone provider and gas, electric and water suppliers
Replace valuable documents and records
Some of your important personal documents may have been burnt or damaged in the fire, so you’ll need to contact various organisations to get these replaced. A useful website is www.gov.uk where you can search for driver’s licences, passports, births, marriages and death certificates, divorce papers, property titles or deeds, benefits and social security payments, income tax records, and vehicle registration documents.
Before cleaning the house, check with your insurance company in case they want to use their own preferred cleaners or need to send a representative to assess the damage caused by the fire. If you’re cleaning up yourself, remove as much soot and dirt as can be washed off using soap and water. Then use some old towels to soak up any pools of water.
Have an electrician check any electrical appliances that may have been in contact with fire or water to see if they’re still safe to use – don’t assume anything is safe. Also, don’t keep any food cans that have bulged or are rusted, and dispose of any food that has thawed or partially thawed.
Article written by Dakota Murphey in collaboration with Brian Gale Surveyors, who were consulted for some of the information in this article.