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House-Fire; one step at a time...

Updated on April 2, 2013
brightforyou profile image

Retired counselor, 341 short stories published by FSU. I have 4 sons, love sharing photography, writing, love travel, sunshine, sea & Grace.

After a house fire you are going to be in shock and feel lost and confused for quite some time; making decisions is very difficult (at a time when lots of important decisions have to be made ). I am sharing my experience here in the hope that what I learned from my own house fire, will help others in these unfortunate circumstances.

On July 1st 2011 my home was devastated in an electrical fire.. the structure remained in tact, but the whole house had to be gutted, including new roof, new a/c, and complete rebuild inside.

Here are the practical steps you must take after the fire:

NOTIFY YOUR INSURANCE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. They will advise you to board up any open windows, doors or openings caused by the fire ... you must secure your home - they will give you the contact number of companies in your area who can do this for you.

Initially your insurance company will allot a temporary adjuster and give you a claim number.

You are then given the name of your Field Adjuster who can advise you of your policy limits for Displacement, Additional Living Expenses, Loss of Use etc on your policy. If you don't have friends or family to house you, (if your house is condemned) then you will have to move into a hotel for a few days.

Insurance companies cover this under "Additional Living Expenses". Be sure to save and photocopy all receipts for the hotel, food and drink, before sending them in to your adjuster. After a few days, you will be advised to find a rental (again depending on the length of time it takes before your home is habitable ). Your insurance covers this under "Loss of Use" up to your policy limit.

You should receive an emergency check within the first week or two (anything from $5,000 to $10,000) to help you out with expenses during this period. (This upfront payment comes out of your content check later ).

I was lucky enough to have an extremely helpful and efficient adjuster; David Rafeld of Citizens Insurance, Florida, who was polite, helpful and responded with compassion, understanding and prompt payments. I am very impressed with Citizens; (they had a bad rap about 5 years ago when Florida was hit with a slew of destructive hurricanes, but since then they have become one of the leading companies ): I can honestly say they have been outstanding in every way with my claim; and in my opinion are the most reliable insurance company and are government backed.

When I was in the initial stages of the process myself, I moved directly into a hotel as it was the holiday weekend. We followed all above instructions, got the name of our Field Adjuster and made a time for him to view the house with us.

Any adjuster will want to be at the damage site for several hours, so its best to stay a short time with him and then go off for a while because the smell in a fire-damaged property is horrid.

The adjuster has been trained to estimate the damage and obviously to keep the costs to the company as low as possible. It is down to you then to find at least 3 good contractors who are licensed and with excellent references in your area (especially those who deal mainly with fire damage ). These contractors usually take up to 3 weeks to write up estimates of the damage as will the adjuster; you will learn patience through this experience!

It's important to chose the right contractors. (depending on your insurance company, some may have their own contractors ). If you are choosing yourself, check references, reputation ~ see if they are members of the Better Business Bureau, or Angie's List. See if they have extensive experience with fire damage etc. Ask for verbal and written references and also photos of previous work done.

(Regardless of how much due diligence you have done, during the process of rebuild, you may occasionally regret your choice of Contractor. If you have a lot of damage, your relationship with the contractor is going to be long-term and can be fraught with frustrations. Its been a long haul for me and not always easy, but I am hoping for a good outcome and a complete job done)!

The estimates from the contractors are then compared to the adjusters initial estimate. That's the time to make your final decision about which contractor you want to go with, and have them work with your insurance adjuster. There will be a middle ground where they can work on an agreed price for the repairs or rebuild.

Following the visit from the adjuster and contractors, your insurance will send around an Inventory Specialist. (Citizens sent a representative from a company called Enservio). They spend a couple of days making note of all the items in your home. You need to make sure this list is accurate; but that isn't easy when it is difficult to be in the home; either because of heat, soot, smell, cold, mold etc. (I didn't have an itemized list of things in my home, but I wish I had because its hard to remember all items, dates of purchase, price paid etc ).

In some cases, you may have to do this inventory list yourself. Either way, I highly recommend you keep a list of all the items in your home, the year purchased and the value, as well as photos. Keep these in a fire and flood proof home safe (or bank deposit box ), because you'll need to know these fact if your home is devastated.

Take photographs of your things left over after the fire, (before they are moved into storage by your contractor ), especially salvageable items which you won't be compensated for by the insurance.

Next step, your insurance adjuster will advise you to call in a company who are experienced in Dry Cleaning smoke damaged clothes,shoes and fabric items. In some cases, the adjuster will organize this for you. These companies use a special ozone room to detoxify clothing and textiles from soot damage, then they dry clean for you. My adjuster called in a company called CRDN.

This cleaning process can take up to 3 weeks, however they will rush certain items to you. NB: wish I'd been less in a fog when they came around because they took items I'd rather have thrown out and they are VERY expensive. The cost comes out of your Contents check, so don't let them take items you are not bothered about having cleaned .

So, this is my story .. for the first 3 days we stayed in a Hotel, and then lived in a friends island rental for almost two weeks..now we have a furnished rental on a month by month basis. My "Loss of Use" is $20,300. I will keep updating this hub as the story unfolds.

NB: Your contractor will suggest all kinds of upgrades..You pay "out-of-pocket" for all upgrades...(including granite, lighting, tile, sinks and more ). Make sure you have all upgrades priced and in writing (or that can quickly get outside of your control ).

UPDATE! Its now Christmas Eve (same year ) and I'm due to get back in my home at the end of this month or early January. Its been a fraught and frustrating time...the house is looking good; but not finished. I just hope the contractor completes the job so I can finally "go home."

Good luck to you all...and I hope you NEVER have to go through this.

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    • brightforyou profile imageAUTHOR

      Helen Lewis 

      5 years ago from Florida

      Hi, thanks you azrestorexp, yes I've been back in the house a year now and its beautiful! Happy New Year to you too!

    • profile image

      azrestorexp 

      5 years ago

      Sorry for your loss, hope your life is back to normal. Happy New Year!

    • brightforyou profile imageAUTHOR

      Helen Lewis 

      6 years ago from Florida

      Thanks LadyFiddler - I'm back in the house and its beautiful - I turned it into a remodelling opportunity! God Bless you, too, Helen

    • LadyFiddler profile image

      Joanna Chandler 

      6 years ago from On planet Earth

      Hi brightforyou sorry to hear about the devastation of your home. i know by now you would have moved back. My home once burn down but i never wanted to returned to that haunted place i will write a hub about it soon. Thanks for the wonderful tips am sure they'll be helpful to someone.

      God bless you

      Fiddler

    • brightforyou profile imageAUTHOR

      Helen Lewis 

      7 years ago from Florida

      Thank you so much for your kind comments and for sharing your store about fire in your warehouse ~ must be even more difficult when you are in a strange country! The contractor started inventory today, then next comes the demolition... its going to take 6 months apparently! Lots of love, Helen

    • Dim Flaxenwick profile image

      Dim Flaxenwick 

      7 years ago from Great Britain

      OOh I really felt empathy for you whilst reading this.

      Your pictures are so like ours at our factory fire almost 2 years ago. No one was hurt and that is the only thing that kept me going. We lost our means of living for a very long time. Your advice is excellent about talking to the right people immediately. Thankfully our son was good at that as we were living in spain and my husband was near retirement, not speaking the language as fluently as our son. I´m so sorry you must have lost more personal things than I did. I hope your family have all come through this nasty experience.

      with love, Dim

    • brightforyou profile imageAUTHOR

      Helen Lewis 

      7 years ago from Florida

      Thanks AliciaC and Silver Poet for your kind words... I guess its a lesson in patience because I hate dealing with insurances... so far, this isn't any better as it is now the 4th day and the adjuster will be seeing the damage for the first time today!

    • Silver Poet profile image

      Silver Poet 

      7 years ago from the computer of a midwestern American writer

      My deepest condolences at your loss.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      7 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I’ve never been through this experience so don’t have any advice, but I’m so sorry for what you’re going through. I hope things work out in the best way that they can.

    • brightforyou profile imageAUTHOR

      Helen Lewis 

      7 years ago from Florida

      Hi dahoglund, thank you so much for your comments - I have the state insurers Citizens, so not sure how its going to go, but so far, they have taken 4 days to do anything at all. I meet with the adjuster tomorrow morning at the house... he doesn't want me to have any contractors there, but I think it may be helpful. :-) Helen

      Hi Eiddwen thank you for your best wishes... and comments :-) Helen

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 

      7 years ago from Wales

      Oh I am so sorry , what an awful situation to be in.

      I am afraid that I don't have any useful tips for you but I do wish you my very best wishes in the weeks ahead of you.

      Take care

      Eiddwen.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      My brother in Minneapolis,Minnesota had his house burn down about three years ago. If it were not for one of his tenants insisting he leave the house he probably would have died. The fire department basically crushed the house to keep it from spreading to other houses. He had a new house build but it took a lot of negotiating with the insurance company and contractors.She also scrounge up a lot of second hand furniture,.etc.

      You probably have a good start in taking pictures, which he was unable to do for obvious reason.Another thing is to try to make an inventory of everything you had.

      In my brothers case I think he was under insured, and did not take into consideration the increased value of his house over the years. I insure my own house for replacent value.

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