Preparing to return home after a house fire

By Andréa Parent, social media and digital content coordinator

Fires are one of the most common emergencies experienced by Canadians in their home. Home fires can happen anywhere and any time, but most commonly occur between December and March. There’s a lot you can do to prevent it from happening, however.
Here are some steps to follow before returning home after a house fire.
A house on fire with a firefighter on a ladder

1. Making sense of what happened

Your home is not just a place; it holds precious memories and may be where you feel most comfortable. It’s expected that people may feel distressed about the losses experinced, overwhelmed about the hard work ahead and conflicted about re-entering their damaged home.

2. Get permission before re-entering your home

After a fire, you and your family will only be allowed to re-enter your home if the building inspector deems the building to be safe. A home fire can cause a lot of structural damage that could pose significant risks of injury. In some cases, a firefighter may escort you back into your home to ensure your safety and to guide you. When you do re-enter your home, protect yourself by dressing properly.

Wear rubber or sturdy boots, safety glasses, a hard hat, rubber gloves and a mask. Prior to re-entering your home, it can also be helpful to rehearse the scenario and how you might feel as a way to feel more control of the situation.

3. Bring important items along when you return home

A hand writing with a pen on a piece of paperWhen you return home, you will most likely have a big clean up to do, as well as paperwork. You may have to fill out some insurance forms and prepare other documentation related to your home. If you have insurance, you may want to take an inventory of damaged or destroyed furniture, appliances and belongings for insurance purposes. Be sure to keep all receipts related to living expenses, repairs, and other costs. 

Some items you should take with you when you are able to enter your home:
  • Camera
  • Notebook and pen to record damage
  • Bucket, mops and sponges
  • All purpose cleaner
  • Flashlight
  • First aid kit
  • Tools
  • Trash bags
  • Food and water
4. Clean up

If your insurance company does not cover house cleaning by a restoration specialist or other local cleaning company, or if you are not insured, you may need to seek cleaning help or plan to clean everything yourself. Take precautions while cleaning your home after a fire. Wear protective gear including boots, safety glasses and rubber gloves when cleaning up. Try to salvage any traditional artifacts and special items that can be restored.

Don’t forget to clean the floors, the walls, the furniture and ceilings, as well as dispose of food, water, medications and hazardous materials that were exposed to heat, soot or water.

5. Cover your basic needs

Once you’ve finished cleaning up, you’ll have a better idea of which items need to be replaced. If necessary, buy food, medications and clothes. Get new copies of important documents that were lost in the fire, like identification, financial documents, your will, and so on.

6. Make an inventory of the damages

If you have home insurance, you will need to provide a list of fire-damaged items to show what you have losts. Review your insurance policy closely so you understand which items to include on this list.

7. Take care of yourself and others when you return home

It’s expected to experience a number of emotions when you return home. You’ve been through a lot.

When a person experiences a stressful or traumatic event like this, it can have a profound impact on the person’s psychological wellbeing. In the event of a home fire, monitor how you and your loved ones are responding.  Reactions like feeling overhwhelmed, sad or angry are common after an emergency. Loved ones who live in your home may also be experiencing a range of emotions in the wake of the fire. Be patient with yourself and those close to you – it takes time to process and manage these feelings after a disaster.

8. Move forward

Your daily life may have changed significantly as a result of the fire. The following suggestions may help you take care of yourself and others:
  • Try to get back to a routine
  • Break tasks into small steps
  • Write down your worries (find some helpful worksheets here).
  • Spend time connecting with family and friends.

9. Reach out for support

Experiencing a disaster is challenging enough, but facing one during the COVID-19 pandemic can feel even more overwhelming. The Canadian Red Cross has many resources available to help you navigate these challenging times. In addition, you can also find mental and emotional wellbeing resources on the Public Health Agency of Canada, or any provincial or territorial health authority website. 

Learn more about Home Fires: Before, During & After and download the Red Cross Guide to Home Fire Recovery. The information in this publication is for reference only. It should not be considered as a substitute for consulting with specialists aout particular situations.

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