My house burned down! What to do after a house fire

Tue Jul 11 2023

White towel catching fire on a stove top next to a blue pot

Even a small house fire can have a devastating effect on a homeowner. At the very least, you can have smoke damage throughout your home, including areas that didn’t burn. In more severe fires, you may have:

  • Water damage.
  • Broken windows
  • Holes in your ceiling.
  • Damage to your foundation, electrical system, and plumbing.

All the potential property damage is often compounded by the emotional toll, which explains why homeowners may have a hard time knowing what their next steps should be. We’ve compiled this list of actions you can take if you ever experience a house fire.

1. Find a safe place to stay

You likely won’t be able to stay in your home for some time after a house fire. In fact, you should not go into your house until the fire department gives the okay. This means that you need to find a safe place for you, your family, and any pets to stay. Doing this may require you call:

  • Friends or family.
  • A hotel.
  • A local chapter of the American Red Cross or Salvation Army.

Any of these may be able to help you with temporary housing. You should also note that homeowners insurance often includes loss of use coverage that may pay for a portion of the cost of staying somewhere else.

2. Contact your insurance company

One piece of good news? Home insurance policies typically cover the physical damage a fire causes, so get in touch with your insurer to get the claims process started ﹘ most have claims information on their websites. Once you’ve filed your claim, your insurance company will assign you a claims adjuster to investigate your damages and assess your loss.

Bonus tip: While it’s not up to you to determine the cause, you should hold on to the item that you think started the fire. Remember, however, that you shouldn’t enter your home until fire authorities say it’s safe.

3. Protect your home

Most insurance policies have a list of duties for the insured after a loss. One of these is usually to protect your property from further damage, so you want to do what you can to prevent bad weather or nefarious people from entering your home. In this situation, that most likely means informing the utilities that you had a fire and telling the police that your home may be vacant for a while.

4. Get a copy of the fire report

Your insurance claims adjuster will most likely want to see the fire report. It’s a public document in most cities, so you should be able to get it from the responding fire department. The fire report usually has important details, such as the:

  • Cause of the fire.
  • Date the fire occurred.
  • Fire department’s arrival time.
  • Estimated losses.
  • An incident number.
  • Type of building.
  • Presence of smoke detectors or fire alarms.

5. Deal with your finances

Just because the home is temporarily uninhabitable doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for making mortgage payments. You need to pay these on time and in full while dealing with the claim. The same is likely true of your car payments, and you’ll still have everyday expenses. You may need to contact your bank and credit card companies to make sure you can access your cash.

Remember, too, that your home insurance may pay some of your additional living expenses after a fire, but policies often place limits on what expenses they cover. Keep receipts for anything you buy as you deal with the aftermath of the fire to help you in your claim.

6. Replace your belongings

Replacing your personal property is a good step towards getting back to normal, but you’ll need to provide your insurance company with an itemized list of all the belongings lost in the fire. If you didn’t create a home inventory prior to the fire, keep receipts of anything that you buy to purchase to replace what was lost and give the receipts to your insurance adjuster.

7. Replace important documents

Any number of important documents may need to be replaced after a fire, including:

  • Driver's licenses.
  • Auto registration.
  • Property titles and deeds.
  • Insurance policies.
  • Warranties.
  • Military discharge papers.
  • Citizenship papers.
  • Social security cards.
  • Wills.

You may even be able to replace money that’s been destroyed by sending it to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing or taking it to your regional Federal Reserve Bank. This generally only applies to paper banknotes when more than half of a bill is intact. However, you may be able to replace small portions of banknotes if there’s evidence that shows the rest of the bill has been destroyed

8. Take care of your mental health

Losing your physical belongings in a house fire is traumatic enough, but the experience can also cause emotional upheaval. You want to be on the lookout for signs that you or your loved ones need help, such as:

  • Tearfulness.
  • Insomnia.
  • Nervousness.
  • A loss of interest in activities.

In the middle of a crisis, focusing on your mental health can be difficult, but it’s important. Be patient with yourself and your family as you recover and consider talking to a therapist to unpack all that you are feeling after the loss.

Question you may have after a house fire

Should you replace your appliances after a fire?

Talk to your insurance claims representative about replacing your appliances. If the appliance was not directly involved in the fire, you likely only need to have it professionally cleaned and serviced. However, it’s often better to replace them completely if the appliance was involved in the fire.

What happens if you accidentally burn your house down?

If you accidentally burn your house down, you need to contact your insurance company immediately. Your insurer should be able to tell you whether your damage is covered based on the circumstance and your policy terms. Plus, you have an obligation to report losses, so you're better off alerting your insurance provider.

The most important thing to remember after a house fire is that things can be replaced. Quality homeowners insurance can make sure of that.


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