Monday, September 19, 2011

After the Fire... What You Need to Know


Coming home after a fire can be overwhelming. There is a sense of relief knowing that you and your loved ones are not harmed or hurt, but it can be difficult to start the recovery process. As you are returning home for the first time it is important to know that often times the damage sustained to your home can be difficult to identify. It is important to know that during these types of fires there is a great deal of hidden damages, especially if the structures, your home or place of business, did not immediately come in contact with flames. You might not know this, but your homeowner’s insurance policy offers coverage for damage sustained during wildfires.
When you go inside your home, there are certain things you should and should not do. Enter the home carefully and check for damage. Be aware of loose boards and slippery floors. The following items are other things to check inside your home:
  • NATURAL GAS: If you smell gas or hear a hissing or blowing sound, open a window and leave immediately. Turn off the main gas valve from the outside, if you can. Call the gas company from a neighbor’s residence. If you shut off the gas supply at the main valve, you will need a professional to turn it back on. Do not smoke or use oil, gas lanterns, candles, or torches for lighting inside a damaged home until you are sure there is no leaking gas or other flammable materials present.
  • SPARKS, BROKEN, OR FRAYED WIRES: Check the electrical system unless you are wet, standing in water, or unsure of your safety. If possible, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If the situation is unsafe, leave the building and call for help. Do not turn on the lights until you are sure they’re safe to use. You may want to have an electrician inspect your wiring.
  • ROOF, FOUNDATION, AND CHIMENY CRACKS: If it looks like the building may collapse, leave immediately.
·         WATER: If pipes are damaged, turn off the main water valve. Check with local authorities before using any water; the water could be contaminated. Pump out wells and have the water tested by authorities before drinking. Do not flush toilets until you know that sewage lines are intact.

·         BASEMENT:  The walls may collapse and the floor may buckle if the basement is pumped out while the surrounding ground is still waterlogged.
·         CLOTHING: Smoke odor and soot can sometimes be washed from clothing. The following formula may work for clothing that can be bleached: * 4 to 6 tbsp. Tri-Sodium Phosphate * 1 cup household cleaner or chlorine bleach * 1 gallon warm water * Mix well, add clothes, rinse with clear water. Dry thoroughly. An effective way to remove mildew from clothing is to wash the fresh stain with soap and warm water, rinse, and then dry in the sun. If the stain has not disappeared, use lemon juice and salt, or a diluted solution of household chlorine bleach. Should you have any questions about the cleaning or preparation of clothing, it is wise to contact a cleaning service. Take wool, silk, or rayon garments to the dry cleaners as soon as possible.

·         COOKING UTENSILS: pots, pans, flatware, etc. should be washed with soapy water, rinsed and then polished with a fine-powdered cleaner.
TIP: You can polish copper and brass with salt sprinkled on a piece of lemon, or salt sprinkled on a cloth saturated in vinegar. 

·         FOOD and OTHER PERSICHABEL ITEMS: Any food, beverages and/or medicines exposed to heat or smoke should not be consumed.  If food was in tightly closed or sealed containers, or in airtight refrigerators or freezers, they may be salvageable. It is cheaper to replace the material than to jeopardize your health by taking a chance. If in doubt, throw it out!
TIP: Food that was in the freezer can still be used it if has ice crystals on it. If not, discard it.

·         REFIGERATOR:  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. 
TIP: Baking soda in an open container or a piece of charcoal can also be placed in the refrigerator or freezer to absorb odor.

·         MEDICINES: Prescription drugs can change strength by exposure to heat. Please check with your doctor first before taking these medicines.

·         LEATHER GOODS: Wipe leather goods with a damp cloth, then a dry cloth. 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.
TIP: Stuff purses and shoes with newspaper to retain shape. Leave suitcases open.

·         BOOKS: Wet books can be taken care of as soon as possible. The best method to save wet books is to freeze them in a vacuum freezer. This special freezer will remove the moisture without damaging the pages.
TIP: If there is a delay in locating such a freezer, then place them in a normal freezer until a vacuum freezer can be located. A local librarian can also be a good resource.

·         MATTRESS: Reconditioning an inner-spring mattress at home is very difficult, if not impossible. If you must use your mattress temporarily, put it out into the sun to dry - then cover it with plastic sheeting. It is almost impossible to get smoke odor out of pillows, whether they are made of feathers or foam. You will likely need to replace your mattress. 

·         ELECTRICAL APPLIANCES: Do not operate wet appliances that have been exposed to water or steam until you have had a service technician check them. This is especially true of electrical appliances. In addition, steam can remove the lubricant from some moving parts.

·         HOUSEHOLD CHEMICAL SPILLS: Disinfect items that may have been contaminated by raw sewage, bacteria, or chemicals. Also clean salvageable items.
·         THE LINGERING ODOR: Remember the odor is in your cooling and heating ductwork. If the smoke odor does not go away in about a week, call a cleaning service specializing in restoration of fire damaged property or call us at 877-554-2226.
TIP:  After a good cleaning, place saucers of household vanilla, vinegar or activated charcoal about your house to help absorb these odors.


·         LISTS: Prepare a list of damaged or lost items. Provide receipts if possible.

·         TAKE PHOTOS/VIDEOTAPE: Photograph and/or videotape the damage where it occurred for further documentation to support your claim. Submit those documents to us.

·         KEEP DAMAGED ITEMS: Keep damages items or portions of those items until the claims adjuster has visited your home. Do not throw away anything you plan to claim unless you have documented the items and repairs.

·         RECEIPTS: Keep receipts for all additional expenses that you may incur such as repairs, cleaning or other supplies.

·         COPIES:  Make copies of all documents and pictures.

·         Contact us at 1-877-554-2226. We can assist you with all aspects of the recovery process.

We are a law firm experienced in handling property damage claims arising out of natural disasters such as fires.  We have provided our services to hundreds of residents throughout California during the worst brush fire season in the State’s history. We are here to help you. We will provide you with guidance as you return to your homes and will provide you with assistance in filing your insurance claims. Below are some important safety, recovery and cleaning tips to consider as you get ready to return to your homes.