Community to Community Advice: First Steps After a Fire – Part 1

For All Total Loss and Partial Loss Fire Survivors

Immediately After You Lose Your Home, or the Use of Your Home, after a Fire

  1. Ensure the safety of yourself, your family, and your pets. Do not attempt to go to your home site until it is deemed safe to do so.
  2. Immediately start looking for housing; let all your family/friends know you are looking. Insureds:  See more info in Part 2
  3. Get at least two notebooks – One to record all insurance-related items, and one to record everything else (phone calls, mileage, housing searches, contact phone numbers and email address of friends, neighbors, government agencies, insurance, etc, even if you have a smart phone).
  4. Medications/Medical Devices:  Contact your doctor/insurance for replacements. Most health plans include free replacement of these items after a disaster, but not all their employees know this
  5. Get a PO Box, use that address immediately, and start mail forwarding
  6. If you have insurance, contact your agent to: 1) get a $5k-30k advance for immediate needs; 2) start your claim; 3) ask for a complete copy of your policy (sometimes it is the adjuster who can get this for you)
  7. LAC/DRC/Shelters – Register with FEMA and Red Cross immediately.  See below for more.
  8. Replace or get a smartphone, laptop, or other smart device as necessary.
  9. Create a new email address just for post-fire issues (see more below).
  10. Consider getting a credit card that earns miles or points … you’ll be spending a lot more than you expect in a short period.
  11. Send your non-fire-survivor friends and families this info:  A Message to Friends & Family of Fire Survivors
  12. Parents:
    1. Keep school(s) informed of contact information and living location.
    2. Create some normalcy for children in the form of a few toys they used to have, favorite books, usual foods, etc. Order on Amazon and/or tell friends that’s what you need.  A familiar bedtime book can make a difference.
    3. Don’t hesitate to get counseling for children and teens.  They may take a while to communicate how sad, scared or worried they are. Getting help sooner is better, before the trauma sets in.
    4. Become informed around safety precautions with smoke and debris toxins.  Developing bodies are more susceptible.

First Couple of Weeks – FEMA / Red Cross / LAC / DRC

  1. At a shelter, online, or the LAC or DRC (defined below), even if you don’t think you qualify or need it, register with:  FEMA (federally declared disaster); SBA (state or federally declared disaster); Red Cross; online apps available.  Most of the aid coming in will use these lists as a point of contact and will help to ensure that you don’t get left out of anything. If possible, try to register for FEMA before your first visit to the LAC or DRC.
  2. Federally declared disaster areas:  usually, a Local Assistance Center (“LAC”) or Disaster Assistance Center (“DRC”) will be established as a one-stop shop to deal with Federal agencies (passports, social security, etc); State agencies (DMV, etc.); Local agencies (Assessor, utilities, etc.).  Local news and town halls will announce their establishment.
  3. Look for your local government Wildfire Emergency Plan if there is one.

First Couple of Weeks – Notifications (Friends and family can help with some of this)

  1. Cancel electric, gas/propane, water, phone, cable, pest control, gardener, pool sweep, landlord, etc.
  2. Cancel or change newspaper delivery address.
  3. Call other insurance providers (cars, specialty items), as necessary.
  4. Notify employer, babysitters, family, friends, etc., of new contact information.
  5. Change your Voter Registration mailing address.

First Couple of Weeks and Ongoing – Social Media

  1. (With your newly created recovery-related email address), join as many social media pages as you can stand with that new email address … sorry to say that social media has been more effective in some ways (keep your current email address for friends and family).
  2. Join NextDoor, FB, Twitter, etc., for neighborhood groups, insureds groups, fire-related news or support, rebuilding information, city and county government recovery information, etc.

First Couple of Weeks and Ongoing – Network

  1. Strength and Comfort in Numbers. You are not going through this alone. Although everyone’s experience is going to be different, the commonalities are where you will find strength.
  2. Get involved in your community. Form or join a neighborhood asap.  Start by reaching out to as many neighbors as you have contact information for and spread the word.  Start a FB private group or Google Group, etc., to create a way for your neighborhood to stay connected and provide essential recovery information.  We had a “standing” neighbor who helped several email groups form.
  3. Let people do things for you. Do you have a friend that you can send to the store to buy you some basic clothes or comfort foods? Let them do it – they want to help and you don’t need to spend time doing these errands. (The “fun” of shopping is gone…it quickly becomes a chore because you don’t want a new shirt, you want the one that you always liked to wear but now it’s gone and you are sad/mad.) Ask them to help you do post-fire “chores,” invite you over for a meal, help with your personal property inventory, pick up your kids from school, etc.

Source: This list was adapted from fire survivor websites in Sonoma County, CA after the 2017 Wildfires