From Flames to Ashes: Steps to Take After a House Fire

Your home is your sanctuary. It’s where you get to escape the hustle and bustle of the outside world. It’s where you sleep, eat, and where you feel safe. Now, it’s gone. What do you do? A house fire can be one of the most devastating and traumatic experiences you’ll ever face. Memories, personal belongings, and peace of mind simply vanish – literally up in smoke. Here’s how to put your life back together and move on, stronger than you were before.

Contact Your Insurer Immediately

Your insurance company is probably your best or only, friend with deep pockets after a house fire. Contact your insurance agent immediately. Ask him what you need to do. Many companies require that you sit down and make a list of everything that was damaged. You may also be required to cover windows, doors (and other openings) and pump out any water resulting from the fire (i.e. if your pipes burst).

Don’t Go Back In the Home Just Yet

Don’t go rushing into your home after a fire. Make sure the fire department says it’s safe to return. Even if the fire appears to be out, it can start up again – leaving you trapped in the home. The fire department will make sure that all utilities are safe to use. If they’re not safe, firefighters will disable or disconnect them for you. Whatever you do, do not turn them back on. It could be life-threatening (especially a gas line).

Finally, soot and dirty water may be contaminated with bacteria or viruses that could make you and your family very sick. Don’t drink or bathe in the water. Even if it looks clean, it may still be contaminated. Your best bet is to avoid using any utility services until you can get confirmation that it is safe to do so.

Clean and Restore Your Personal Stuff

There are many companies that professionally clean and restore personal effects. However, you can do this yourself if you have good cleaning equipment. You may need some pretty powerful solvents to remove soot and smoke though. Regardless of who does the cleaning, make sure you confirm with your insurer who will pay for the supplies and service.

If you’re hiring someone to clean everything for you, ask your insurance company for names of good companies that they’ve worked with in the past. They’ll be able to tell you who to go to.

Get Your Financial Documents in Order

Contact your mortgage lender as soon as you can to get copies of your mortgage contract and loan amortization. Contact all of your credit card companies – you may need to cancel your cards and have new ones issued. Save all receipts for any money you spend as these will show the insurer what you’ve spent on things related to your house fire. It will also help prove that you actually purchased these things when tax time rolls around (cleaning supplies, etc., may be tax deductible).

If you had any cash in your house that was partially damaged, you can contact the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to have it replaced. You can also have vital documents like your birth certificate and Social Security card replaced by contacting the Federal government via Finally, if you have any government bonds, you may have damaged ones replaced by contacting the U.S. Treasury.


The Aftereffects and the Benefit of Hormesis

The ancient Greeks believed in a principle called “hormesis.” Hormesis means exposing yourself to toxins and physical damage in small doses. The thought was that if it didn’t kill you, it would make you stronger. You’ve probably heard clich├ęs similar to this idea before, but it’s often true. Your house fire was an unwanted hormetic event, but it will make you a stronger person – emotionally. You’ve survived, and that’s what’s important.

Peter Aguirre has worked in the insurance industry for years. He shares his tips and knowledge on a range safety and personal finance blogs and websites. Visit for more information.


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