In the days and weeks that follow a house fire, you will have to take the first steps toward re-entering your home, documenting the damage, and beginning the recovery process. You will have to find temporary accommodations for your family, and potentially even a long-term rental for your family to live in while your home is repaired. 

You will be working with contractors, cleaners, and other professionals throughout the rebuilding process.At the same time, you also have to handle your insurance claim, and work with the insurance company’s claims adjuster. Any small or early mistakesmay affect the extent of coverage available at the conclusion of the claim and the value of your final settlement.

Follow this check-list if you are not sure what to do after a house fire to ensure your own safety and minimize the recovery costs that might have to come out of your own pocket.

#1 Contact Your Insurance Provider

The first thing you should do after a fire is to contact your insurance provider. The sooner they know what happened, the sooner they can initiate the claims process. Your insurance policy will require you to contact your insurance provider as soon as you have experienced damage or loss to your home and its contents. This is an important step that you will have to fulfill in order to ensure that the maximum coverage under your policy remains available. 

You should begin with a phone call to reach the insurance company immediately, though you will also want to inform them in writing. You can also request your Long-Form Policy, where you will find the small-print of your insurance coverage terms, updated coverage limits, and other important information.

#2 Re-entering Your Home

Before you re-enter your home, you will have to wait for the fire inspector to declare the building safe for re-entry. If the fire inspector deems the remaining structure unsafe, you may not be permitted back inside.

As you re-enter, dress appropriately. Wear sturdy or rubber boots, safety glasses, a hard hat, rubber gloves, and a dust mask to protect yourself from inhaling ash.

#3 Document Damages

Before you start salvaging items or taking anything to the curb, document the damages for the insurance company. The insurance company will want to see documentation to substantiate every item of personal contents. This documentation should provide both verification that the item did in fact exist in the home at the time of the fire, as well as show the state it was in after the fire. Without this documentation the insurance company could reasonably question multiple entries on your Schedule of Loss, which is a list of damaged personal contents.

As you survey your home, take pictures of everything including personal contents and structural damage. You may also want to consider filming short videos on your phone as you walk through the home.

#4 Retrieve Important Documents

Now is your chance to retrieve important documents if they survived the fire. Retrieve identification documents such as birth certificates, driver’s licenses, passports, citizenship papers, etc., as well as financial documents such as your insurance policy, titles to deeds, credit cards, warranties, and wills.

#5 Request a Cash Advance from Your Insurance Company

During the period of time in which your home is being repaired, you will need temporary accommodations and emergency supplies for you and your family. These expenses are covered under the Additional Living Expenses section of your insurance. These costs all paid up-front, and immediate costs like this can add up quickly and put you under considerable financial stress. You can ask for a cash advance from your insurance company, which might provide you with some funds up-front to relieve the pressure. These funds will be used to offset later calculations and claims, so be sure to keep receipts and substantiate as much as possible. 

This checklist can help you get through the first days and weeks after a house fire. Be sure to take care of your mental and physical health as you prepare to re-enter your home, search for sentimental items, and begin the insurance claim process.