House Fire Aftermath: What To Do and How To Handle Your Insurance
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When a fire breaks out in your home that you cannot extinguish yourself, you should immediately evacuate and then call the police. Next, contact your insurance company, as most house fires are covered and you will want to begin the home insurance claims process as soon as possible.
Keep reading to learn what else to do after a house fire, as well as fire prevention safety tips and how much home insurance coverage you should have in case a fire occurs.
What Are the Most Common Causes of House Fires?
House fires can start from a variety of sources, including:
- Cooking fires: This can include grease fires, both stovetop and barbecue, as well as food debris that’s ignited on the heating element in your oven.
- Heating equipment: Dryers can cause fires if the lint filter isn’t cleaned regularly and the exhaust isn’t cleaned annually. You can also mitigate fire risks by maintaining your furnace and chimney, as well as making sure your space heater isn’t near any flammable materials. Firepits, though warming and pretty to look at, can present a hazard if an ember hits a dry plant on your property.
- Electrical systems: Loose or corroded wiring in electrical equipment could lead to an arc fault, a high-intensity spark that can potentially ignite nearby flammable materials.
- Candles: Between 2015 and 2019, candles accounted for 2% of home fires, predominantly starting in bedrooms (37%) and were responsible for significant deaths and injuries.
- Smoking: Loose embers from a cigarette that fall on upholstery, bedding or trash can cause a fire. Also, a discarded cigarette butt can ignite dry plant life if idly tossed outside.
- Christmas trees: Approximately 25% of Christmas tree fires are caused by electrical malfunctions or proximity to heat sources such as electric lights and candles and about half of the fires involving holiday decorations result from them being placed too near to heat sources.
What To Do During and After a House Fire
Read the steps below to learn what to do when a large fire happens and then how to recover after it’s put out.
1. Get Everyone Out and to Safety
The first and foremost priority during a house fire is to ensure the safety of all occupants. Quickly and calmly evacuate everyone from the house, using pre-planned escape routes if possible. Do not stop to gather possessions; the primary goal is to get out safely.
You, your family members and pets should maintain a safe distance from the house after evacuating. Fires can escalate quickly, presenting dangers like smoke inhalation, burns, explosions and potential structural collapse. Do not attempt to re-enter the house for any reason.
2. Contact Emergency Services
Once everyone is safely out of the house, call emergency services immediately. Provide them with your address and relevant details about the fire. A quick response from your local firefighters can prevent the fire from spreading and minimize damage.
3. Contact Your Home Insurance Company
You should contact your home insurance company to report the fire as soon as you can. They will guide you through the process of filing a claim, such as providing a list of items lost and providing a copy of the fire report. Prompt reporting is crucial in getting the support and compensation you're entitled to.
4. Contact Your Landlord if You’re Renting
Your landlord will need to call their insurance company to begin the restoration process of the building. Renters insurance will provide coverage for your possessions but it is the landlord’s policy that will cover the building structure itself.
5. Contact Your Loved Ones
Inform your family members, friends or anyone who needs to be aware of the incident. They can provide emotional support and practical assistance during this challenging time. You may also ask to temporarily move in with them if your home is uninhabitable.
6. Recover Your Possessions Once Given Clearance and Instructions
Wait until the authorities declare it safe to re-enter the house. Follow their guidance on how to safely recover any possessions, including important documents and personal items that may have survived the fire.
Also, be sure to take pictures of damaged items in your home. These will be needed when filing an insurance claim.
7. Discard Foods That Have Been Exposed to the House Fire
Dispose of any food that has been exposed to fire, smoke, heat or firefighting chemicals. Consuming these can be harmful to your health.
8. Turn Off Utility Services
For safety, turn off utilities like gas, electricity and water, unless doing so poses a risk. Professional services can assist with this if necessary.
9. Secure Property if the Structure Is Still Up
If part of the home remains standing, secure it to prevent further damage or unauthorized entry once it is deemed safe to enter. This might involve boarding up windows or doors. You can also use tarps to shield leftover property from the elements. Anything left from the fire is still going to be considered your responsibility.
10. Find a Safe Place To Stay
Arrange for a temporary place to stay. Your insurance policy might cover the cost of temporary housing, so check with your insurance provider. And as we've mentioned earlier, friends and family may also be an option.
11. Keep Track of Receipts
Keep receipts for all expenses related to the fire, including lodging, meals and clothing. These will be important for your insurance claim as your carrier may reimburse you for the money you spend.
12. Meet With a Claims Adjuster
Your insurance company will send out a claims adjuster to survey your property after the fire. You should meet with them to help answer questions and to give them a good understanding of what has been damaged.
13. Come Back With a Restoration Company and Identify Any Damage
Your carrier will usually have a list of restoration specialists for you to look through and choose from when it comes to bringing your home back into a liveable condition. However, you may have the option to choose a restoration company of your own.
If you’re rebuilding your home and the contractor is being paid in installments, be sure to confirm that the work is complete to your satisfaction before your insurance company issues the final payment.
Does Homeowners Insurance Cover House Fires?
Homeowners coverage typically provides house fire insurance by providing financial relief for damage to your home, separate structures on your property and personal belongings.
- Dwelling coverage: Covers the structure of your home, as well as attached garages. You should buy enough dwelling coverage to rebuild your home if it completely burns down in a fire.
- Detached structures: Known as "other structures coverage," this part helps pay for non-attached property structures like sheds, detached garages and fences.
- Personal property: Extends to personal items like appliances, furniture and clothing, insuring them against fire and other specified risks. If these items are fire-damaged, the insurance may cover their repair or replacement.
- Additional living expenses: If your home is inaccessible while it is being rebuilt, your insurance company may reimburse you for expenses that exceed your normal daily living costs. Qualified expenses may include hotel stays and meals.
Additionally, standard policies may cover landscaping damage from fires, reimbursing for destroyed trees or shrubs.
It's important to examine your policy closely to understand whether it provides actual cash value or replacement cost coverage. Actual cash value coverage usually compensates for the depreciated value of items that have been damaged.
In contrast, replacement cost coverage is designed to cover the expense of buying new items at current market prices but costs extra. This distinction can significantly impact how you are reimbursed in the event of a claim, so be sure to read the fine print of your policy.
What Types of Fires Does Home Insurance Cover?
Home insurance generally covers a wide range of fire types, including kitchen fires, electrical fires and those caused by heating equipment or smoking. However, fires resulting from intentional acts will likely not be covered. Coverage for wildfire damage depends on the policy and whether you’re located in a high-fire-risk area, so it's crucial to review your policy for specifics.
What if I Don’t Have Homeowners Insurance?
In the absence of homeowners insurance, various community resources can offer assistance following a fire. These include the Salvation Army, the American Red Cross, religious organizations and state or municipal emergency services offices. For those unsure of where to start, contacting your local town or city office is a good first step, as they can guide you to the relevant support services and programs designed to help fire victims recover.
Tips for House Fire Protection
Protecting your home from the threat of a house fire involves several key strategies. Here are some essential tips:
- Install smoke alarms: Test them monthly and replace batteries at least once a year.
- Check electrical wiring and appliances: Avoid overloading power outlets and use surge protectors where necessary. Also, replace or repair any chewed or frayed wires due to rats or squirrels.
- Maintain heating equipment: Have your heating system serviced annually by a professional. Keep portable heaters away from anything that can burn and never leave them unattended.
- Practice safe cooking: Never leave cooking unattended and keep flammable materials away from the stove. Clean cooking surfaces regularly to prevent grease and food debris buildup.
- Use candles safely: Always keep candles in sturdy, non-combustible holders and away from flammable materials. Never leave candles burning unattended or go to sleep with candles lit.
- Create a fire escape plan: Practice your escape plan regularly with all members of your household. Ensure everyone knows at least two ways to escape from every room.
- Keep fire extinguishers handy: Keep one on each level of your home, especially in the kitchen and near the fireplace. Make sure everyone knows how to use them.
- Store flammable materials safely: Keep flammable liquids like gasoline, paint thinners and cleaning supplies in properly labeled, sealed containers away from heat sources.
- Secure matches and lighters: Store matches and lighters out of children's reach, preferably in locked cabinets.
- Inspect and clean chimneys and fireplaces annually: This is particularly important for wood fireplaces as a buildup of soot can combust and cause an unintentional fire. A similar but smaller risk exists for gas-powered fireplaces. Have regular maintenance done on your gas-powered fireplace to avoid gas leaks which could lead to poisoning as well as an explosion.
- Avoid smoking indoors: If you must smoke, never smoke in bed or when you are likely to fall asleep on a couch or chair. Also, elderly people who use oxygen tanks should not smoke or they risk the combustion of the tank.
- Educate children about fire safety: Teach children the dangers of fire and the importance of not playing with matches, lighters or other fire sources.
- Have an itemized list of belongings: While this won’t prevent a fire, you should have a home inventory that lists all of your possessions and includes pictures, serial numbers and receipts. You can give this to your insurance company in case there is a fire to help with the claims process so you’re reimbursed properly.
- Regularly water your live Christmas tree: During the holidays, keep your tree hydrated and away from any heat sources. If your tree becomes dry, throw it out as it is more likely to catch on fire.
How To Get Home Insurance Coverage for House Fires
When searching for insurance for a house fire, it's advisable to gather and compare quotes from at least three to five different providers. These insurers will typically ask for details about your home, including its construction year, the state of the roof, its location and the number of people living there. This process can be quite cumbersome, as it involves providing the same information repeatedly to different companies.
To simplify this, consider using an insurance comparison platform like SmartFinancial. This service requires you to fill out a single questionnaire regarding your insurance needs and financial considerations. Once completed, SmartFinancial efficiently matches you with a home insurance policy tailored to your requirements, often within a very short time. Get started on your free homeowners insurance quote today.