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Recovering From Wildfire Damage To Your Home Is Often Not Simple Or Easy

Wildfires, known for their destructive power, can wreak havoc on homes and properties, causing substantial damage. After the wildfire danger has subsided and it’s deemed safe by authorities to return home, it’s important to evaluate the damage and restore your home. This guide provides you with step-by-step instructions, prioritizing safety, preventing mold growth, addressing soot and smoke residue, and effectively managing insurance claims and repair procedures.

On this page you will find Safety First, Insurance and Repairs, and Cleanup.

Safety First

Assess the Situation: Before cleanup, make sure the area is declared safe by local authorities. Wear appropriate personal protective clothing including gloves, masks, and sturdy footwear to protect yourself from potential hazards.

Consider Consulting with Professionals: For major cleanup, repairs, and restoration, it’s often best to consult professionals who specialize in disaster recovery and restoration services. They have the expertise and equipment to safely oversee the aftermath of a wildfire. Such services may be covered by your insurance policy, and your insurance carrier may have a list of preferred providers. Review your insurance policy, consult your insurance broker or provider, and check with your insurance carrier.

Air Quality: Use air purifiers and fans to help improve indoor air quality. Consider replacing filters frequently to prevent circulating particles from the wildfire smoke.

Ventilation: Open windows and doors to allow for ventilation and to help remove any lingering odors and toxins.

Check for Hazards: Be cautious of exposed nails, broken glass, and other hazards that could cause injuries during the cleanup process.

Look Out for Displaced Wildlife: Wildfires can displace animals from their natural habitats. You may encounter wildlife seeking shelter or food in areas they wouldn’t typically be found.

Assess Utilities: Electrical systems may be damaged by heat or smoke. Have a qualified electrician inspect and repair any issues to prevent electrical fires. Check for plumbing damage due to heat or smoke exposure. Address any leaks or damaged pipes. Keep receipts in the event your insurance policy covers the electrician’s work.

Insurance and Repairs

Document Everything: Photograph and record videos of the damage, both for insurance claims and, if available, FEMA disaster assistance applications, as these visual records are needed for the successful processing of your claim. Maintain receipts of all purchases as they might be eligible for reimbursement through your insurance coverage.

Maintain Documentation: Document every interaction with your insurance provider, adjuster, and contractors, including contracts, photos, and receipts.

Keep Your Damaged Property: Your insurance provider may require them for assessment, determining whether they should be repaired or replaced and estimating the associated costs.

Contact Your Insurance Company: Alert your insurance company promptly. They will lead you through the claims procedure and might suggest particular contractors for the repairs.

File Your Insurance Claims Promptly: Don’t delay submitting your insurance claims, as this could result in claim denials. It may also impact your eligibility for additional assistance, including FEMA aid. In certain cases, FEMA mandates that you file an insurance claim before seeking their aid.

Review Your Policy: Take time to understand the limits, deductibles, and exclusions in your insurance policy. If you have inquiries, contact your insurance broker or provider. Document any questions you may have about your policy and its coverage, along with the responses you receive.

Examine Your Contractors Thoroughly: During the recovery process, both individuals and businesses must diligently assess contractors to protect themselves. In cases where your insurance company doesn’t provide such a list of contractors, consult your state’s Better Business Bureau and other reputable organizations for insights and information regarding the contractor’s background and reliability. Learn more about finding qualified contractors here.

Get Multiple Quotes: Obtain written repair estimates from well-established contractors and provide these to your insurance adjuster to facilitate negotiations.

Be Prepared to Contest the Insurance Company’s Decision: You do not have to accept the insurer’s verdict. They may choose not to cover specific repairs or offer an amount insufficient to meet your expenses. Familiarize yourself with insurance claims and dispute resolution processes for a better understanding of your options.


Professional Help: For extensive or challenging residue, or if you are unsure about the cleaning process, consider hiring professionals experienced in fire damage restoration. They have the expertise and equipment to oversee difficult cleanup tasks.

Ash and Debris Cleanup: Be gentle with fire-damaged buildings. Safely remove ash and debris from inside and outside your home in compliance with local regulations and guidelines. This includes clearing yards, driveways, and rooftops. Separate hazardous materials for proper disposal. Discard seared appliances, furniture and other damaged personal property that is unsalvageable.

Soot and Smoke Residue Removal: Wildfires generate heavy soot and smoke residue that can spread across surfaces. Use specialized cleaning agents such as equal parts of vinegar and water to clean walls, ceilings, and surfaces without causing additional damage. Here are some common cleaning techniques:

  • For Painted Surfaces: When cleaning painted walls, be cautious not to scrub too vigorously, as this can remove paint. Test a small, inconspicuous area first to ensure the cleaning method does not damage the paint.
  • Preparation: Before cleaning, ensure the area is well-ventilated. Open windows and doors to allow fresh air to circulate. Wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), like gloves, safety goggles, and an N95 respirator mask.
  • Dry Cleaning: Use a dry sponge, cheesecloth, or a dry chemical sponge to gently wipe the surface and remove loose soot and smoke particles. Avoid pressing too hard to prevent smearing.
  • Wet Cleaning: For heavier residue, move on to wet cleaning. Dip a sponge or cloth in the chosen cleaning solution (TSP or vinegar mixture for example) and wring it out well. Gently wipe the affected area in a circular motion. Work in small sections, about 3×3 feet, at a time. This prevents the cleaning solution from drying before you can wipe it away.
  • Rinse and Dry: After cleaning, rinse the area with clean water and a separate sponge or cloth. Wipe away any remaining residue and cleaning solution. Dry the surface thoroughly with clean, dry clothes or towels.
  • Repeat as Necessary: For stubborn residue, you may need to repeat the cleaning process several times. Be patient and avoid using excessive force to prevent additional damage to the wall.

Roof and Gutter Inspection: Inspect the roof for damage from embers and flames. Address any holes or compromised roofing materials. Ensure gutters are clear of debris to prevent future fire hazards.

Mold and Mildew: Moisture from firefighting efforts or subsequent rain can lead to mold and mildew growth in homes, especially if not addressed promptly and adequately. Learn more about mold prevention and removal here.

Recovering from a wildfire involves coordinated effort, from understanding your insurance policy and selecting reputable contractors to implementing proper cleaning and repair techniques. By taking these steps, you can navigate the restoration process effectively, ensuring a safe and thorough recovery for your home. Remember, professional guidance and adherence to safety measures are paramount in this journey toward restoration and renewal.

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