What to Do After A House Fire: A Complete Checklist

By: Diana Rodriguez-Zaba
Updated on: March 18, 2024

Nobody wants to experience a home fire. Unfortunately, they’re common.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, more than 350,000 residential fires occur every year. 

Luckily, you don’t have to navigate the aftermath alone.

Here at ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba, we have more than 85 years of combined experience in the fire damage restoration industry. 

Based on that experience, we’ve developed this checklist to help you through the process. 

Before You Get Started

Before you begin the fire damage restoration process, do these things: 

  • Consider Calling the Professionals: While the urge to begin the recovery process immediately is understandable, we strongly recommend relying on professional fire damage restoration services. Professionals are equipped with the expertise, equipment, and protective gear necessary to tackle these challenges efficiently and safely. They understand the structural and environmental hazards posed by fire damage, including weakened structures, electrical issues, and hazardous air quality.
  • Wait for Clearance: Never re-enter a fire-damaged property until you’ve received official confirmation from the fire department that it’s safe. The structural integrity of the building may be compromised, and there could be electrical or toxic hazards hidden among the damage. You may also encounter crumbling walls, collapsed ceilings, and buckled floors.
  • Gather Your Safety Equipment: Always prioritize your safety by wearing the appropriate gear. This includes protective clothing, gloves, eye protection, and respiratory masks to shield yourself from soot, smoke, and other potentially harmful substances.

What To Do After The Fire: A Home Fire Restoration Checklist

what to do after the fire

1. Contact your family

First, let family and friends know you’re OK. Explain that you’ll be temporarily relocating during the restoration process.

2. Call Your Insurance And File A Claim

Next, call your homeowners’ insurance company. Give them as much information as possible about the fire. If you don’t have an official fire report yet, plan on forwarding the documentation to your agent.

3. Reach Out To A Restoration Contractor

Now is a good time to connect with a professional fire damage restoration company. Their teams take care of all the work and help file fire damage insurance claims. If you’re in the Chicago area, call ServiceMaster by Zaba: (773) 647-1985

4. Contact An Electrician

After a fire, your home’s electrical system may also be compromised. 

It’s best to bring in a licensed electrician and a fire damage specialist to assess the overall system and structural integrity.

5. Document The Damage

document fire damage

It may be tempting to get started on cleanup and restoration right away, but you want the insurance company to have an accurate picture of your losses.

Document the damages to interiors, contents and belongings. Take pictures and video, and save everything to support your fire damage insurance claim.

Check online for replacement costs of large items, such as furniture, appliances and electronics. Download and file the results with your damage documentation.

Power Tip: Don’t throw away any fire-damaged contents or belongings. Leave everything in place so that the insurance adjuster can see exactly what you’ve lost.

6. Secure the Property

If you’ve hired a restoration team, the first thing they’ll do is secure the property by boarding up windows, doors, and other openings if needed to prevent further damage. 

They might also utilize tarps to cover damaged roofs or exposed areas.

7. Leave the Affected Area Alone

Do not disturb the room where the fire originated. 

The fire department and your insurance company will need to investigate the cause and circumstances of the fire to confirm your insurance coverage. Because of this, moving items can be seen as tampering with evidence. 

For small fires, like a microwave fire, seek approval to relocate the affected until inspection can occur.

8. Sort Through Your Possessions 

Identifying the items to keep and discard can feel overwhelming, but it’s a crucial step in the cleanup and restoration process. 

While your team of fire restoration experts can help you identify salvageable items, here’s a general list of the things you should usually get rid of:

  • Electrical equipment: Heat and water-damaged devices could pose a fire risk. If the equipment was primarily affected by smoke, rather than heat, it may be salvageable. 
  • Burned clothes: Salvaging burned clothes is challenging, especially if it is water-soaked or smoke-damaged. In most cases, you should discard burned clothing. 
  • Furniture and mattresses: Odors and chemicals in fabric are tough to remove, so these items should usually be discarded. 
  • Cosmetics: Heat can alter the chemicals in cosmetics, while fire water may contain toxins harmful to products. As such, it’s safer to replace them.
  • Medicine: Heat can reduce the effectiveness of medicine. With this in mind, discard any pharmaceuticals that have been exposed to heat, smoke, soot, or water.
  • Food items: High temperatures can make canned goods unsafe; fire chemicals may contaminate food.

9. Address Water-Damaged Interiors

The next step in the restoration process is to remove standing water in your home, basement, or crawl space. 

This is usually done with commercial equipment like sump pumps, wet vacs, and dehumidifying gear to get rid of as much moisture as possible.

10. Open Up And Dry Out the Space

Damp structural materials quickly develop mold and wood rot, so you need to speed up the drying process. 

If it’s not humid outside, open up as many windows as possible. 

Set up large fans in affected areas, and run them 24/7. Arrange the fans so that they create crosscurrents of rapidly moving air. A large dehumidifier can also help lower indoor humidity.

You may want to rent several large box fans and a heavy-duty dehumidifier.

11. Clean Up Smoke And Soot Damage

A house fire generates toxic smoke that stains interiors and deposits layers of dangerous soot on surfaces.

Tackle smoke damage restoration with trisodium phosphate, degreasers or soot sponges. Be sure to always wear your protective clothing, respirator and goggles during this step.

Power Tip: As you work, minimize the spread of soot through the house by layering cheesecloth over air vents.

12. Perform Final Cleanup

perform final cleanup

Final cleanup involves washing all affected surfaces with appropriate cleaning products. 

Household cleaners are labeled for use on either porous or non-porous surfaces, so follow product instructions.

Double-check your work over the next several weeks. If you see or smell any signs of mold growth, it’s time to call a fire and water damage company.

13. Rebuild, Replace And Restore

Once you’re confident that everything is clean, dry and mold-free, begin tearing out fire-damaged materials. 

Dispose of the debris according to city regulations, and recycle as much as possible.

This last step is time-consuming and often requires multiple trips to the home improvement center. 

Restoring a fire-damaged home isn’t easy, so stay open to handing the project off to industry-trained technicians.

Power Tip: Most homeowners insurance policies cover the cost of professional fire damage restoration.

Know When To Call The Pros

fire damage restoration

If you have second thoughts about DIY restoration, it’s never too late to call in fire damage cleanup professionals. They can finish the job quickly and take care of any details you might have missed. 

Here are a few benefits of hiring a professional team:

  • Their specialized water extraction systems and industrial drying equipment speed up water damage mitigation.
  • During fire damage cleanup, restoration professionals contain the spread of hazardous contaminants.
  • Professional fire damage restoration experts can help you file insurance claims. 
  • Professional fire damage cleanup includes property-wide sanitizing, deodorizing and HVAC duct cleaning.
  • Mold remediation is taken care of with highly effective industry-certified techniques.
  • Fire damage restoration pros greatly reduce the time it takes to return your home to its pre-loss condition.

If you’re going to call a professional team, keep in mind that the duration of fire restoration can vary widely depending on the scale and severity of the fire damage. 

For minor incidents, restoration might take a few days to a couple of weeks, while substantial damage requiring structural repairs can extend the timeline to several months. 

The complexity of the restoration, the speed at which a professional team can begin the process, and the extent of cleanup required all influence the overall timeline. 

Dealing With The Aftermath Of A Fire In Chicago Or Suburbs? We Can Help.

Cleaning up after a house fire by yourself can quickly turn into an enormous project. We hope our checklist makes it a little easier to deal with, but you don’t have to do everything.

Our teams are always ready to help at any point during the restoration process, and we can also assist with filing your fire damage insurance claim.

Don’t try to manage it all by yourself. We’re here for you 24/7. Call ServiceMaster by Zaba for expert home fire damage cleanup and restoration

Chicago(773) 647-1985

Suburbs(847) 730-7301

Lake County (847) 459-3900

Helpful Resources For Dealing With Home Fires

Portable Fire Extinguishers – City of Chicago

What to Do During A Home Fire – Ready.Gov

 Burn Prevention Safety – Illinois Fire Safety Alliance