Home structure fires pose a significant, potentially deadly threat. According to the National Fire Protection Association, U.S. fire departments responded to an average 358,300 home structure fires per year between 2010 and 2014. Statistics regarding home fires in Canada are somewhat elusive, but a 2007 report from the Council of Canadian Fire Marshals and Fire Commissioners indicated home structure fires accounted for 73 percent of all fire deaths in the jurisdictions that contributed to that year's report.
A host of factors can contribute to home fires. Cooking equipment, heating equipment and electrical distribution and lighting equipment can spark home structure fires. In such instances, homeowners may soon find themselves picking up the pieces after their homes, and many of their possessions, have burned to the ground. The U.S. Fire Administration offers the following tips to men and women who must recover after their homes have fallen victim to structure fires.
- Recognize the need to be patient. When a home is on fire, firefighters may take certain actions to ensure the fire is completely extinguished. For example, holes might be drilled in the walls of homes to make sure there are no hidden flames. In addition, holes may be cut in the roof to let out heat and smoke. Such actions can save lives and even homes, but the resulting cleanup can be time-consuming. When returning home for the first time after a fire, men and women must recognize the need to remain patient as they formulate and execute a plan to clean up their homes.
- Contact a disaster relief service. The local branch of a disaster relief service like the Salvation Army can help victims of home structure fires find lodging, food, clothing, and medicine. Don't hesitate to reach out to such organizations for assistance.
- Do not enter the home until the fire department deems it safe to do so. Even fires that appear to be out can start again. In addition, the USFA advises that roofs and floors, even those that appear sturdy to the naked eye, can still fall down after the blaze has been extinguished. Avoid entering a home until you have been given the go-ahead by the local fire department.
- Contact the police and your insurance agent. Victims of home structure fires whose homes are uninhabitable should contact their local police departments and their insurance agents to inform them about the fire and that they will not be living there. Police departments and/or home insurance providers may require that holes in walls and broken windows be boarded up to prevent trespassers from gaining entry to the home. Renters should contact their landlords immediately as well.
- Be careful with items that were not burned. The USFA notes that even items that were not burned may still have been ruined by smoke or been soaked with water. Carefully clean any items that you think can be salvaged before using them.
- Save all receipts spent on repairs. Insurance companies may require receipts to confirm spending on repairs, and such receipts may also be required for people who want to claim any losses on their tax returns.
Home structure fires can turn lives upside down. But following the advice of local fire departments and accepting the assistance of local relief organizations can make the recovery process go as smoothly as possible.