Wildfires are a huge tragedy in our country.
Every year millions of acres and hundreds of thousands of home are affected by them. The cost not only to the Departments and Agencies that fight them but to the innocent homeowners is astronomical.
Statistics for 2012 show that 67,774 wildfires burned more than 9.3 million acres in the United States costing the US Government almost $2 Billion trying to suppress them.
The tough part is that this cost the statistics show are not taking into account the emotional and mental price that some endure when caught in the path of such a destructive force.
When I decided to get into this industry more than 14 years ago it was because I wanted to help families and homeowners weave their way thru the difficult maze of fear and shock that they inadvertently found themselves in when they are thrown into a situation that was neither their fault or their choice.
My heart hurts for all the the families and innocent people that have recently found themselves in the midst of the wildfires that are ravaging Carlsbad and areas in Southern California. There have been lives, family pets, homes and untold amounts of precious keepsakes lost in the blink of an eye.
A good friend of mine once asked me if I had a super power what would it be? I didn’t know what to say at the time But now I know. It would be the power to wipe out a fire when it was just a small tiny flame stopping it from growing into a raging inferno that devours all in its wake.
Unfortunately I possess no such super power so I will do what I can. Which is to help with educating those who have been affected so that they can take some control over their situation.
So I am writing this post not only for those who have been affected but also for any Restoration Companies that are helping clean up after these fires in hopes that this information will reach those who need it.
In my experience there are 3 key things you need to know if you live in an area that has been affected by a wildfire. There is a very different criteria with a wildfire verses a regular house fire. In a regular house fire you can usually see the damage caused by the flames but when it is a wildfire most often you cannot. So those affected don’t even realize that they have damage in their home or to their belongings. I hope you find these helpful in someway either for yourself or for someone you know and please pass this information on.
1. Your home and belongings may be covered with smoke or soot even though you cannot see it: You cannot always see smoke and soot intrusion with the naked eye or by wiping your hand over a surface. (which I do not recommend using your hand as the oils on your skin can actually cause more damage if there is soot present on the area you touch) Have your home and your belongings tested for damage. A Certified Cleaning and Restoration Company can easily do this testing for you. When testing they will use a special sponge to wipe different areas and surfaces in your home so they can see what areas are affected and how badly. When your home is in an area ravaged by a wildfire the smoke and soot can travel a long distance depending on wind and get sucked into your heating and air-conditioning unit. Even though you can’t see it on your walls, furniture and horizontal surfaces, your home could be covered in harmful soot.
2. What you can do to help minimize damage: Assuming you have already called your insurance company, there are some very important things you can do yourself once you know that your home or belongings have smoke and soot intrusion to prevent further damage. As I mentioned above have your home tested by a professional to see what if any you have for affected areas. Changing out the filter on your furnace/air-conditioner right away is a good idea. It will likely be done again once your air ducts are cleaned and furnace checked out but that could take some time to get done and in the meantime your filter is probably full and unable to let your system breathe. Put vaseline on any faucets or metal fixtures in your house that you have been affected. Soot is very corrosive to metals. Remove your house plants and replace their soil after soaking them throughly to rinse off any soot and smoke from their roots or leaves. Some insurance policies do not cover house plants so if you want to save them its up to you. Also if you have an aquarium your fish inside it may not be covered either. Regardless you must act quickly to save them. Remove them right away from the affected area. Clean the filter system and replace the water in the tank as soon as possible. Keep your house temperature cool. When the temperatures rise it causes pores to expand and allows the smoke and soot to penetrate deeper into some materials. If you have corian or granite counters wipe them off with a wet soft cloth. Do not eat open food from affected areas such as fruit on the counter, open bread or crackers that may be sitting out. This includes open containers of dog or cat food as it can make your pet sick if it is contaminiated. Do not turn on computers or electronics until they have been looked at by a professional to make sure they are not contaminated. Turning them on could cause damage. Remove fire arms if you have any in your home and take them to a gun smith to be looked at as soot can etch them very badly and most restoration companies will not handle or transport firearms. Save your receipt for this as you may be able to get reimbursed under your contents policy. Hire a professional Restoration company that is experienced with this type of cleaning once you have checked their references. Ask to see the testimonial from their last fire cleanup job.
3. What not to do: Do not wash affected laundry in your own washer or dryer as it can damage them. Do not start throwing things away that you feel is damaged beyond saving as you may be able to get reimbursed for such items under your contents policy once your adjuster has seen them and they are inventoried. Do not use your household vacuum to clean up soot from furniture or carpets as you will contaminate it. (This may not apply if the vacuum is already contaminated by the fire and you feel that using it to get soot off of other items that may help save them) Do not wash contaminated dishes in your dishwasher. Do not handle this on your own or with the help of a neighbor down the street. It is usually a recipe for disaster as this type of work is a very specialized field and takes a well trained professional to get the job done thoroughly.
It is your decision and yours alone who you choose to hire to handle the clean up in your home or business.
I hope you have found this information helpful. It is important to know that you are responsible in the eyes of the insurance company as the insured to mitigate and take any necessary action to stop further damage or loss to your property. That may be but not limited to some of the items I have mentioned above. The most important thing you can do is hire the right professionals to help you by making sure that they provide you with references and guarantees on their work.
If you have any questions or further topics you would like me to cover please comment below this post.
I wish you all the best.