How to Know What to Do Following a House Fire

Experiencing a house fire is a frightening, sickening, and very upsetting experience. In the aftermath of a fire, it is very important to know what to do to protect yourself and others from any possibility of further harm. This article will help you with key things to do and know after a fire.


  1. Image titled Know What to Do Following a House Fire Step 1
    Ask when it is safe to enter a house or other building on the property after a fire. Do not enter a house or other building that has been affected by a fire until you have listened to the professionals telling you that is okay to do so. Other factors to be aware of include:
    • making sure that the fire is extinguished
    • knowing that fire authorities have checked out the site and done what they need to do to establish a safety zone
    • the severity of the fire
  2. Image titled Know What to Do Following a House Fire Step 2
    Recognize that if a house or building is too badly damaged, you may not be allowed back inside at all.
  3. Image titled Know What to Do Following a House Fire Step 3
    Know who to call after a fire.
    • Contact family members that may not have been with you. Let them know what happened, let them know that everybody is okay (if so) and let them know the information that is necessary.
    • After a house fire, don't assume that someone is going to contact your insurance. This is the number one thing that you need to do. This will not only enable documentation of the event and set in train the insurance claim but your insurer will be able to talk you through emergency lodging and living expenses. Remember to retain all receipts to make a claim.[1] The insurance company will also assist with clean up options.[2]
    • If you are a tenant, contact the owner/landlord and/or their insurance company.
    • Anyone who you feel that could be helpful to you, not necessarily just an insurance company but it could be other things involved, such as the contents of your home and you need to contact a particular help group or business etc. For example, American Red Cross offers services to those who have lost their home.
  4. Image titled Know What to Do Following a House Fire Step 4
    Understand what happens with a "fire report". A fire report will discuss what structure the house was in, what area was involved, the time of the incident, the date of the incident and it will have an incident number if it comes through a fire department. This enables the fire department to know all the specifics of who was there and what resources were there, to assist in gathering a lot more information.
  5. Image titled Know What to Do Following a House Fire Step 5
    Know how to get a copy of a fire report. You may be able to call the fire department for a copy. For example, in Los Angeles, you can call the Fire Prevention Bureau, the Fire Marshall or the billing agency of the fire department. If arson is involved, the Arson Unit or equivalent will probably be able to get this information to you.
  6. Image titled Know What to Do Following a House Fire Step 6
    Secure the property. If you have not already being told to do so, it is important to secure your property to prevent possible looting. Talk to emergency services on how best to go about this. Most insurance policies require this.[3]
  7. Image titled Know What to Do Following a House Fire Step 7
    Consider the clean up requirements. If your house has been damaged rather than destroyed, interior clean up will be required. Keep in mind that damage to the property often goes beyond what the eye can see. (Removal of a destroyed house should only be done by professionals.) You should spend a little time assessing whether you think you can perform the clean up or if you'll need professional cleaners. You will find it useful to discuss this with your insurance company. Consider such things as:
    • The types of damage including soot, ash, charring, smoke, odor, etc.
    • Damage to a single room - this may be something you can manage yourself
    • Extensive damage - leave it alone and call in the professionals[4]
  8. Image titled Know What to Do Following a House Fire Step 8
    Know how to handle smoke and soot damage after a fire. If you do make the decision to clean up yourself, be aware that soot and smoke damage might be significant and often creates a film on the walls. There will also be residue from the extinguishers used by the fire crew.
    • Soot - while there are many cleaning products available on the market, one of the most common is "TSP" or tri-sodium phosphate. Mix it with water according to the instructions and use a sponge. Wipe down the walls and let it dry.
    • Extinguisher residue - use a shop hired vacuum to remove the residue and any remaining dry soot.[5]
    • Furnishings such as carpets, rugs, curtains etc. are best cleaned professionally if they are even salvageable.[6]
    • Open all doors and windows if possible. Even if it is freezing cold outside, let small bursts of fresh air circulate through. Send the kids to a friend's house for a bit while this is happening. They should not be around anyway, for fear of the potential for ingestion of chemical particles or other particles that might damage young lungs and immune systems.
  9. Image titled Know What to Do Following a House Fire Step 9
    If water hoses were used to put out your fire drying your home is very important. It is best to hire professionals to do fire/ water combination clean up. Water damage can lead to more damage or even mold if not dried properly. Insurance companies will often have approved restoration contractors that you can call for board up, structural drying, contents cleaning and structural cleaning and repair. BBB and Angie's List are also good places to find trustworthy contractors.
  10. Image titled Know What to Do Following a House Fire Step 10
    Seek counseling if needed and reassure children. Having your house damaged or destroyed by fire is extremely traumatic and can have lasting impacts on each family member, depending on his or her ability to cope. Common feelings are helplessness, disorientation, pining for belongings, deep sadness, a sense of deprivation, despair and a loss of routine and structure.[7] The depth of feelings and disorientation will depend on the extent of damage - loss of the entire house can leave everyone feeling as if they have to rebuild life all over again; partial loss, however, still carried stress and sadness. Reassure each other and let the emotions happen. Keep a close eye on children and be truthful with them about what has happened and if you do not know what is going to happen next, at least reassure them that you have one another, that things can all be replaced and that the only way is up from here on.


  • If the fire got past the wallboard, you will need to remove all of the wallboard, and clean the structure of the house. If any timbers were charred, sandblasting to remove the burnt parts will be needed. If this is the case, it is unwise to perform the cleanup yourself, as it is a major undertaking, and potentially dangerous.
  • Keep an accurate inventory of any personal property being removed by the clean up company.
  • Use deodorizers to cover up the odor of a fire. It will linger for a long time, so keep letting in as much fresh air as possible. Removal of soot removes the odor of the fire, so the more collected, the better.
  • Remember, the insurance adjuster is there to minimize the claim. If you feel that they are taking shortcuts (cleaning rather then replacing) voice your concerns. You also have the right to use a certified public adjuster who will be your advocate not the insurance companies.
  • Loss of pets is extremely traumatizing. If you believe that your pet may have escaped the fire, you might wish to put up posters asking for assistance in finding your pet.
  • Always keep your valuables such as jewelry, money, etc. in a strong fire-proof metal safe because it will not easily be damaged during a fire.


  • Never assume that clean up companies were sent by your insurance company, there are a lot of Fire Truck Chasers out there.
  • Always secure your own valuables: Jewelry, Photos, Money, whatever you cannot replace. Once the restoration company has it, it's theirs until they receive payment, they have all the leverage.
  • If you do the clean-up by yourself, wear a mask to filter the air you breathe, wear strong cleaning gloves and wear thick-soled boots. You do not know what you may tread on or touch that is broken, spiky or chemical ridden, so prudence is paramount.

Sources and Citations

  1. Coj Net Fire & Rescue
  2. This Old House After a Fire
  3. Coj Net Fire & Rescue
Show more... (6)

Article Info

Categories: Fire Emergencies