What to Do After a House Fire in Your West Hartford Home
Did you know that fires kill more people in America each year than all natural disasters put together? And a house fire in West Hartford can cost up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage. For example, it can cost $50,000 or more to rebuild and restore a burned-out kitchen—and 44% of all home fires start as cooking fires.
The bad news is that while decades ago, house fires allowed residents around 15 minutes to escape, that timeframe has shrunk dramatically. Today, you need to get out of a burning home in around 3 minutes! Why this difference? Synthetic materials and furnishings in today’s homes are much more flammable, burn hotter and they produce more toxins when burned.
What Happens in a House Fire?
A timeline of a typical kitchen fire shows how quickly a fire can spread and destroy a home. Within just a few seconds, a stovetop boil-over can spill flammable oily contents onto the cooking flame or electric burner, causing flames to shoot up.
Within 30 seconds: Next, any grease or oil on the stovetop ignites, sending flames across the range and jumping to nearby combustibles, such as paper or dish towels. Smoke—composed of hot gases, including carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, water vapor and hydrogen sulfide, plus ash and soot—rises from the flames with the heated air. This may be your last chance at quickly putting the fire out. Don’t move the pot or pan, but cover it with a lid or cookie sheet to cut off its oxygen.
30–60 seconds: The fire gets bigger and hotter and ignites other objects in the kitchen, while smoke, which can burn your lungs and throat, spreads throughout the kitchen. Inhaling just a couple of breaths of the toxic gases in smoke can cause you to pass out.
1–3 minutes: The smoke thickens and spreads to other rooms and up the stairs, carrying deadly cyanide and carbon monoxide (which is the primary cause of fire deaths). The kitchen and its contents are being consumed and the temperature is now hot enough to kill humans. Thick smoke hovers just above the floor, filled with deadly toxic compounds. At this point, your family is rapidly running out of time to evacuate the house!
3–4 minutes: The heat soars to more than 1000 degrees F, and everything in the kitchen and other affected rooms bursts into flames in a flashover. Flames shoot out windows and doorways and the oxygen is sucked from the room. You can no longer navigate the stairwell. Synthetic furnishings, like sofas and carpets, burn and release huge amounts of heat. The flames begin to travel through interior walls to the second floor.
4–5 minutes: A passerby will see flames shooting out of windows and doors. The living room and other nearby spaces will flashover and your home is now at risk of floor or roof collapse. It is now almost impossible to rescue anyone on the second floor.
How to Escape a House Fire in 3 Minutes or Less
Your life and the lives of your family depend on creating and practicing an escape plan. Start by making a diagram of your house with windows and doors labeled. Map out two escape routes from each room, one of which is through a door. Identify an outside meeting place a safe distance from your house. At that point, you’ll call 911 from a neighbor’s house.
Next, make sure you have the right equipment to alert you to a fire and to allow you to escape. You should have smoke alarms on each floor and one near each sleeping area. Test your alarms each month, replace batteries once a year, and install new alarms every five years. Make sure all your windows open easily and doors can be opened from the inside without a key. If your family sleeps on the house's second floor, consider purchasing escape ladders to provide additional exit routes.
At least twice a year, practice your escape plan. Practice crawling and teach your children never to hide from a fire. Practice using escape ladders if you have them. And because most fires start at night, run one of your yearly drills after bedtime.
What Happens Immediately After a House Fire
After a house fire is extinguished, the structure and property may be gravely damaged. Do not enter the home until you have received permission from your local fire marshal. Between the flames, smoke and heat, what wasn’t destroyed outright may still be ruined. Appliances may have been melted inside, and synthetic materials will continue to emit toxins. Smoke and odor may have permeated every item in the house. You may even have a mold problem brewing caused by the water sprayed by firefighters. Structural weaknesses may cause your house to collapse.
At this point, you may want to call on the services of an experienced fire damage restoration company like SERVPRO of West Hartford to handle the enormous job of returning your home to livable condition. SERVPRO will send a crew in promptly to evaluate the job and can handle everything from start to finish: removing destroyed property; identifying and cleaning salvageable items; remediating damage from smoke, soot and water; coordinating with your insurer; and fully restoring your home to pre-fire condition.
What You’ll Need to Do After a House Fire
There are few disasters as shocking and devastating as losing your home to a house fire. You’ll have to make many critical decisions in a short period of time while emotions surge. Taking it step by step, here’s a process that will help you start putting your life back together.
Find a Place to Stay
Everyone who lives in your home, including children and even pets, will be deeply shaken after a house fire. Make it a priority to find a safe and comfortable place to stay—even if it’s just for a night or two. Your family will be able to rest, regroup and begin planning your next steps. You may prefer to stay with friends or family or at a hotel, but if that’s not possible, disaster relief agencies like the American Red Cross or Salvation Army can often set you up with temporary shelter at no charge.
Contact Your Insurance Agent
Get in touch with your insurance carrier as soon as possible. Your insurer may help you find a reliable cleaning and restoration company and may be able to provide funds for upcoming out-of-pocket costs. And of course, the sooner you get the claims process going, the faster you can get started on repairs or home replacement.
Ensure the Safety of Your Home
House fires can damage your home’s structure, putting it at risk of collapse, so don’t enter your fire-damaged home without a fire marshal’s okay. An inspection to determine if your home is safe to enter can be done by the fire marshal or your insurance company, who will search for hidden damage to wiring, wall supports and foundations.
Once your home is declared safe to enter, the next step is to document the damage, ideally with your insurance adjuster. You’ll also want to recover personal items and salvage whatever can be saved. For your safety, wear close-toed shoes, long-sleeved shirts and long pants, safety glasses and work gloves. Use a camera to document the damage to your house and property.
The firefighters who responded to your fire may have turned off your gas, water and electric utilities to prevent more damage. Again, wait for a home safety inspection and an all-clear from your fire marshal before you turn these utilities on again. You can inadvertently cause another fire, a gas leak or water damage.
You don’t want your empty, fire-damaged home to become a refuge for squatters and looters, so be sure to report your fire disaster to the local police and ask them to keep an eye on your property while you are sheltering elsewhere. Consider boarding up your windows and doors for even more security.
Save Undamaged Possessions
Once you’re able to reenter your damaged-but-not-destroyed house, you’ll want to remove items that weren’t damaged by the fire, especially personal items such as clothing, toys, memorabilia, important papers, etc. If you hire a fire restoration company like SERVPRO of West Hartford, we can work with you to clean your important items so that you can quickly access them.
Catalog Your Damaged Items
Daunting as it is, you’ll need to create a full accounting of all your possessions and furnishings that were destroyed or damaged in the fire. This catalog will be crucial in receiving full compensation from your insurance company. Many insurers even require receipts, serial numbers and other details. It’s a huge challenge to do this when your home has just been damaged or ruined. Some homeowners have been able to assemble this information for certain items by searching their online bank statements for the cost and date of purchases.
SERVPRO of West Hartford makes creating this catalog much easier. Room by room, we evaluate the damaged and undamaged items in your home, take photos and document key information to create a digital record. Then, we wrap and pack up the undamaged objects that require storage and the damaged objects that require cleaning and restoration. We transport all your possessions to our warehouse where they are carefully stored, cleaned, restored and tracked. Once your home repairs are complete (or your new home is ready for move-in), we reverse the process and replace all your personal items and furnishings into your home.
Beyond your possessions, you’ll also need to list important documents that were lost in the fire. Certain critical items, like drivers’ licenses, birth certificates, passports, titles and deeds, medical records, tax information, etc., will need to be replaced immediately.
You’ll need to get rid of these household items after the fire (while documenting items and their value for insurance purposes):
- Perishable food: If your electricity has been off for more than four hours, toss your refrigerated food. A full freezer may keep food for up to eight hours.
- Non-perishable food: Unfortunately, other foods, even those in cans, that have been exposed to heat, water and firefighting chemicals must be thrown out.
- Cosmetics and medicines: High temperatures, water, smoke and firefighting chemicals can ruin these products, so out they go, too.
- Electrical equipment: Check for water and heat damage before you use any electrical items, such as small appliances or entertainment devices. You’re better off throwing out any questionable items to eliminate the possibility of another fire.
Plan Your Finances
You may need to pay out-of-pocket for some or all of the costs of restoring your home before you are reimbursed by your home insurer. Be prepared to lay out as much as tens of thousands of dollars before your insurer cuts its check to you.
Your house fire may require you to replace lots of furnishings and personal possessions, such as clothing, electronic devices and more. As you purchase new items, keep your receipts so that you can submit them to your insurer for reimbursement. Again, expect to make a cash outlay before your insurance claim is settled and you receive compensation.
One thing that doesn’t stop after a fire disaster is bills. Your insurance policy may or may not cover your mortgage. You’ll still have other recurring costs to cover, though, such as car and credit card payments. While your home is being repaired, it may make sense to cancel cable and internet.
We’re Here for You
The team at SERVPRO of West Hartford has specialized training and experience in fire restoration and cleanup, as well as natural disaster and storm damage cleanup, water damage and mold remediation, and chemical and biohazard cleanup. Call SERVPRO of West Hartford (860.206.6141) any time.
If your home or business suffers damage from a fire, call SERVPRO of West Hartford today at 860.206.6141
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If your home or business suffers damage from a fire, call SERVPRO of West Hartford today at 860.206.6141