How to Recover from a Fire on a Homestead

Reader Contribution by Bobbi Peterson
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Smokey Bear did his best to teach everyone how to prevent forest fires, yet you too can experience a house fire.

No matter what type of house you have, it’s your job to protect it, your loved ones and the treasured memories built within. Here’s what you can do to keep your  house safe, and in the case of a fire, stay alive and recover:

Create a Fire Escape Plan

To create a fire escape plan, you’ll need to draw a basic floor plan of your house, outlining each floor and its escape routes. Ideally, each room should have two escape options. Place a copy in each child’s room, at their eye level. You may also want to teach your child how to break glass safely. For rooms on upper levels, invest in a fire ladder for a safe exit.

Plan a meetup location, such as a tourist area, church or school. Everyone should know how to use text messaging, which can get through network disturbances, and should have a primary family member designated as an emergency contact.


Proper Fire Equipment

Keep proper fire equipment to ensure family and home safety. In addition to checking your dual-sensor smoke detectors every six months, it’s handy to have a fire extinguisher nearby on all levels. Everyone in the family should know how to use a fire extinguisher, using the mnemonic device PASS:

P — Pull the pin.
A — Always aim at the base of the fire.
S — Squeeze the handle.
S — Sweep from side to side.

The best types of fire extinguishers to have are ABC multipurpose types, with Class A for fabric, plastic, rubber, wood and paper, Class B for grease, oil, paints, cleaning solvents and gasoline and Class C working on electrical equipment.

When thinking about fire safety, many homeowners overlook fire masks. Many people believe the myth that gas masks protect you from both carbon monoxide and smoke, but smoke can clog a gas mask. Additionally, gas masks may melt if exposed to fire. To prevent smoke inhalation, a fire mask is a wise investment.

Create a Fire and First-Aid Kit

While many families have first-aid kits on hand, they may forget to add in burn ointments and fire safety. Families should know how to treat burns as part of first-aid preparedness. Remove jewelry from the burned area. If possible, place the burn under cool running water for at least 10 minutes before applying antibiotic or burn ointment.

Wool fire blankets are another necessary addition to a first-aid safety kit, as they naturally protect from the flames and comfort shock victims. Keep additional blankets along planned escape routes.

Pay Special Attention to Fire Hazards

Be alert to potential fire hazards in your home, such as improper fuel storage.

Color-coding gasoline, kerosene and diesel containers will help keep everyone safe, preventing the hazard of mixing gases. Keep gases away from their ignition sources, such as keeping wood piles separate from propane, and at least 20 to 30 feet away from your home.

Everyone loves a good barbecue in the summer, but you need to clean your grill clean after every use. Grease fires are common, and a grill brush will help prevent buildup. Prevent drippings from getting near the gas hose, and periodically check for gas leaks and blockages.

Fireplace safety is super-important in the home, especially since there are an average 14,000 house fires every year due to improper fireplace care. Your best defense is a sturdy and secure fireplace screen made of glass or metal. When the fire has burned itself out, be sure you have a safe place to dispose of the ashes.

Use forest service fire suppression tools, such as a shovel and Pulaski axe, to minimize fire risk and to clean up dry brush around your home. Experts recommend maintaining a 100-foot fire line around the home to keep away brush fires.

On Recovery, Assessing Damage and Reimbursing Costs

It takes a team effort to recover after a house fire. It’s not safe nor in your best interest to restore your property by yourself.

Your homeowner’s insurance company will evaluate the damage, but it’s important to keep your receipts for any hotel and meal costs, as these expenses may be reimbursed.

Aside from calling your insurance company, you’ll need to contact your landlord, if you have one, and organizations such as the American Red Cross if you need emergency assistance with shelter, clothing or food. Many people don’t know partially burnt paper money may be replaced by your local federal reserve bank. Ideally, your most important documents should have been protected in a fireproof safe, but if not, they are replaceable.

You’ll need to document any damage to your property, including the land in case of a wildfire or fire having spread. Take photos and check for water damage, in case professionals need to be brought in for repair. Many companies specialize in restoring property after fire damage, and your insurance company or local fire service may provide leads.

Recovering from a house fire often poses an unexpected tragedy, even when you think you’re prepared with an evacuation plan. Remember, there’s no such thing as being overly prepared for a worst-case scenario. Take all methods of fire prevention to heart, and keep proper fire equipment, including fire masks, multipurpose extinguishers and blankets. Prevent home fires by mitigating brush fire risks and keeping grills and fireplaces clean. Add burn treatment supplies to your first-aid kit.

When a fire does occur, recovery will go much more smoothly if you contact professionals and reach out for help from local and national relief services. Document everything and store your receipts so your insurance company can help you navigate through assessing the damage and recovery process and restoring your home.

Photo by Raquel Raclette

Bobbi Peterson is an environmental blogger who started the blog Living Life GreenFollow Bobbi on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

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