In about 43 hours, it will be the one year anniversary of an electrical fire that started in the attic above my bedroom. Luckily, I wasn’t in there when the ceiling came crashing down with smoldering sheet rock and dust. However, let me give some sound advice for those who have never (and hopefully will never) experience a residential fire. Those photos and trinkets and collectibles that you’ve amassed in an astounding display around the room and home need to be placed in waterproof containers. Rarely will a house fire get so hot that it MELTS plastics made to house cherished items (ex: a safe), but often the water damage that covers furniture, clothing, etc from sprinklers and firemen hoses will make anything retrievable in them worth it. You see, the water used to smother out fires is not pure water; it often contains chemicals (like asbestos) to wipe out a fire quickly and anything that gets wet that is not immediately cleaned and dried, WILL (most likely) develop black mold (this type of mold is deadly to any age and ethnicity). Oh, but *why* wouldn’t you rush in to save your belongings after the fire is out? Your insurance company and the fire department will investigate the cause and severity of a fire: this can take up to 3 months, especially if foul play is suspected and NOTHING can be removed or touched (preserving the scene like a criminal one). In our case, an electrical fire was started because of an electrical arch that burned bright and hot from wiring that was set up in the 1960’s (when standards were different) and which found dust, older wood construction and insulation to eat up in a frightening blaze. Due to the obvious electrical fire (seriously, wires from the ceiling light were melted through and apart), our insurance case moved more quickly (took 6 weeks for the investigation) to allow demolition and reconstruction (which would take 5 months to complete). BEST ADVICE AFTER A FIRE: GET A PRIVATE ADJUSTER. Yes, you may have insured your home/apartment (there IS such thing as renter’s insurance and you need to get this if you plan on staying there after more than 3 years) with a company for 10, 15, 25 years but you must realize it is always in the insurance company’s best interest to value your possessions/property as low as possible to save money. Regardless of how long you’ve held and paid your policy (and even if the agent is your uncle), your property will be more than all the years combined of insurance payments. One case in point, electronics. Your computers, television, Blu-Ray player, iPods, etc are swapped out rather quickly for the latest models or simply replacement of broken equipment: add those prices up. Oh, did you have Lenox gold trimmed collectibles and crystal chandeliers and vases and one-of-a-kind Swavorski pieces? If those aren’t broken/chipped by the water pressure, the dirt and ashes will make it almost impossible to clean back to its original state. Never mind, your jewelry boxes, piggy banks with cash and designer accessories/bags if you haven’t placed them in protective boxes or storage elsewhere because they’ll be worth nothing once the water dries and the mold grows in. In short, a private adjuster WILL mark down the value of each item (based on time of purchase and any value accrued over a time period) and help you gain back, in monetary terms, what you paid the insurance company to do (which is protect and replace any personal items/goods under the policy you bought). This process (finding shelter after the fire [our insurance company paid for a one month stay at a TowneSuites by Marriott until we found a rental home that the insurance company also paid for], emergency cash for clothing and food, etc – these are outlined in your policies, PLEASE read them!) takes time and you MUST interview each private adjuster you think you want to hire (their fees are normally between 2.5-4% of the insurance money you get back for the value of property lost – anyone charging higher is trying to rob you and may not give any personal care to your case once you have hired their services). Every state (this happened in NY) also has its own bylines, do your research at the library or use the Internet!
I’m sorry for the run-on sentences and the very short summary of what happens after a house fire. It’s a long drawn out process after the fire and you better be ready to buckle down for a few months with very minimal supplies, clothing and cash. If you have any questions that you think I may be able to answer, I’ve set up an account JUST for questions pertaining to a house fire. Any and all other questions will be ignored and deleted, please be respectful.