Recovering from a fire may take a
long time and many of the things you have to do will be new to you. If you
are not insured, your recovery from a fire loss most likely will be
dependent upon your own resources. The Bellingham Fire Department may be
able to help you. Private organizations that can help
include the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army. You also could talk
with your church or synagogue. Local civic groups such as the Lions or
Rotary Clubs also can be of help.
If you are insured, your insurance will be the most important single
component in recovering from a fire loss. A number of coverage's are
available such as - homeowner's, tenant's or condominium owner's insurance
policies. Your insurance policy is a contract between you and the insurer.
The insurer promises to do certain things for you. In turn, you have certain
obligations. Among your duties after a fire loss would be to give immediate
notice of the loss to the insurance company or the insurer's agent. Protect
the property from further damage by making sensible or necessary repairs
such as covering holes in the roof or walls. Take reasonable precautions
against loss, such as draining water lines in winter if the house will be
unheated for some time. The insurance company may refuse to pay losses that
occur from not taking such reasonable care. Make an inventory of damaged
personal property showing in detail the quantity, description, original
purchase price, purchase date, damage estimate and replacement cost.
Cooperate with the insurer or his/her adjuster by exhibiting the damaged
property. Submit, within a stated time period (usually 30 - 60 days), a
formal statement of loss. Such a statement should include:
- The time and cause of loss
- The names and addresses of those who have an interest in the
property. These might include the mortgage holder, a separated or
divorced spouse or a lien holder.
- Building plans and specifications of the original home and a
detailed estimate for repairs.
- The damage inventory mentioned above.
- Receipts for additional living expenses and loss of use claims.
Valuing Your Property
A pre-fire inventory along with a videotape of all your property could
prove to be a valuable record when making your claim. When adjusting your
fire loss or in claiming a casualty loss on your Federal income tax, you
will have to deal with various viewpoints on the value of your property.
Some terms used are listed below:
- Your "personal valuation" is your attachment to and personal
valuation of your property lost in a fire. Personal items have a certain
sentimental value. This term is not meant to belittle their value to you
but is used to separate feelings about the value from objective measures
of value. It will be objective measures of value which you, the insurer,
and the Internal Revenue Service will use as a common ground.
- The "cost when purchased" is an important element in establishing an
item's final value. Receipts will help verify the cost price.
- Fair market value before the fire also is expressed as "actual cash
value." This is what you could have gotten for the item if you had sold
it the day before the fire. Its price would reflect its cost at purchase
and the wear it had sustained since then. Depreciation is the formal
term to express the amount of value an item loses over a period of time.
- "Value after the fire" is sometimes called the item's "salvage
- The cost to replace the item with a like, but not necessarily
identical, item is the replacement cost.
Adjusting the Loss
"Loss adjustment" is the process of establishing the value of the damaged
property. This is the result of a joint effort among a number of parties.
Basic parties to the process are the owner or occupant and the insurance
company and its representatives. The owner or occupant is required by the
insurance contract to prepare an inventory and cooperate in the loss
valuation process. An insurance agent may act as the adjuster if the loss is
small. The insurer may send an adjuster who is a permanent member of the
insurer's staff, or the company may hire an independent adjuster to act in
its behalf. It is the insurance adjuster's job, as a representative of the
insurance company, to monitor and assist in the loss valuation process and
to bring the loss to a just and equitable settlement. Either you or the
insurer may hire the services of a fire damage restoration firm or fire
damage service company. These firms provide a range of services that may
include some or all of the following:
- Securing the site against further damage
- Estimating structural damage
- Repairing structural damage
- Estimating the cost to repair or renew items of personal property
- Packing, transportation, and storage of household items
- Securing appropriate cleaning or repair subcontractors
- Storing repaired items until needed
It is important to coordinate with the insurance adjuster before
contracting for any services. If you invade the insurer's responsibility
area by contracting without its knowledge or consent, you may be left with
bills to pay that otherwise would have been covered by the insurer.
Replacement of Valuable Documents and Records
Local department of motor vehicles department|
Your bank, as soon as possible|
Your insurance agent|
|Military discharge papers||
Local Veterans Administration|
Local passport office|
|Birth, death, marriage certificates||
State Bureau of Records in the state of birth, death or marriage|
Circuit Court where decree was issued|
|Social Security or Medicare cards||
Local Social Security Office|
The issuing companies, as soon as possible|
|Titles to deeds||
Records department of city or county in which the property is
|Stocks and bonds||
Issuing company or your broker|
|Income tax records||
The Internal Revenue Service Center where filed or your accountant|
|Auto registration title||
Department of Motor Vehicles|
The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service|
|Prepaid burial contracts||
|Animal registration papers||
Society of registry|
Clothing - Smoke odor and soot sometimes can be washed from
clothing. The following formula often will work for clothing that can be
- 4-6 tbsp. of Tri-Sodium Phosphate
- 1 cup Lysol or any household chlorine bleach
- 1 gallon warm water
Mix well, add clothes, rinse with clear water and dry well.
Be aware that Tri-Sodium Phosphate is a caustic substance used as a
cleaning agent. It should be used with care and stored out of reach of
children and pets. Wear rubber gloves when using it. Read the label
carefully. To remove mildew, wash the fresh stain with soap and warm water.
Then rinse and dry in sun. If the stain has not disappeared, use lemon juice
and salt, or a diluted solution of household chlorine bleach.
Cooking Utensils - Your pots, pans, flatware, etc., should be
washed with soapy water, rinsed and then polished with a fine-powdered
cleaner. You can polish copper and brass with special polish, salt sprinkled
on a piece of lemon or salt sprinkled on a cloth saturated with vinegar.
Electrical Appliances - Appliances that have been exposed to water
or steam should not be used until you have a service representative check
them. This is especially true of electrical appliances. In addition, steam
can remove the lubricant from some moving parts. If the fire department
turned off your gas or power during the fire, call the electric or gas
company to restore these services - DO NOT TRY TO DO IT YOURSELF.
Food - Wash your canned goods in detergent and water. Do the same
for food in jars. If labels come off, be sure you mark the contents on the
can or jar with a grease pencil. Do not use canned goods when cans have
bulged or are dented or rusted.
If your home freezer has stopped running, you still can save the frozen
food. Keep the freezer closed. Your freezer has enough insulation to keep
food frozen for at least one day - perhaps for as many as two or three days.
Move your food to a neighbor's freezer or a rented locker. Wrap the frozen
food in newspapers and blankets or use insulated boxes. Do not re-freeze
food that has thawed.
To remove odor from your refrigerator or freezer, wash the inside with a
solution of baking soda and water, or use one cup of vinegar or household
ammonia to one gallon of water. Some baking soda in an open container, or a
piece of charcoal can be placed in the refrigerator or freezer to absorb
Flooring and Rugs - When water gets underneath linoleum, it can
cause odors and warp the wood floor. If this happens, remove the entire
sheet. If the linoleum is brittle, a heat lamp will soften it so it can be
rolled up without breaking. If carefully removed, it can be re-cemented
after the floor has completely dried. Small blisters in linoleum can be
punctured with a nail and re-cemented if you are careful. Dilute regular
linoleum paste thin enough to go through a hand syringe and shoot adhesive
through the nail hole. Weigh down the linoleum with bricks or boards. It
usually is possible to cement loose tiles of any type. Wait until the floor
is completely dry before beginning.
Rugs and carpets also should be allowed to dry thoroughly. Throw rugs
then can be cleaned by beating, sweeping or vacuuming, and then shampooing.
Rugs should be dried as quickly as possible. Lay them flat, and expose them
to a circulation of warm, dry air. A fan turned on the rugs will speed
drying. Make sure the rugs are thoroughly dry. Even though the surface seems
dry, moisture remaining at the base of the tufts can quickly rot a rug. For
information on cleaning and preserving carpets, call your carpet dealer or
installer or qualified carpet cleaning professional.
Mattresses and Pillows - Reconditioning an innerspring mattress at
home is very difficult, if not impossible. Your mattress may be able to be
renovated by a company that builds or repairs mattresses. If you must use
your mattress temporarily, put it out into the sun to dry. Then cover it
with rubber or plastic sheeting. It is almost impossible to get smoke odor
out of pillows. The feathers and foam retain the odor.
Leather and Books - Wipe leather goods with a damp cloth, then a
dry cloth. Stuff purses and shoes with newspapers to retain shape. Leave
suitcases open. Leather goods should be dried away from heat and sun. When
leather goods are dry, clean with saddle soap. You can use steel wool or a
suede brush on suede. Rinse leather and suede jackets in cold weather and
dry away from heat and sun.
Wet books must be taken care of as soon as possible. The best methods to
save wet books is to freeze them in a vacuum freezer. This special freezer
will remove the moisture without damaging the pages.
If there will be a delay in locating such a freezer, place them in a
normal freezer until a vacuum freezer can be located.
Locks and Hinges - Locks (especially iron locks) should be taken
apart, wiped with kerosene and oiled. If locks cannot be removed, squirt
machine oil through a bolt opening or keyhole, and work the knob to
distribute the oil. Hinges also should be thoroughly cleaned and oiled.
Walls and Furniture - To remove soot and smoke from walls,
furniture and floors, mix together:
- 4 to 6 tbsp. Tri-Sodium Phosphate
- 1 cup Lysol or any chloride bleach
- 1 gallon warm water
Wear rubber gloves when cleaning. After washing the article, rinse with
clear warm water and dry thoroughly.
Walls may be washed down while wet. Use a mild soap or detergent. Wash a
small area at one time, working from the floor up. Then rinse the wall with
clear water immediately. Ceilings should be washed last. Do not repaint
until the walls and ceilings are completely dry.
Wallpaper also can be repaired. Use a commercial paste to repost loose
edges or sections. Contact your wallpaper dealer or installer for
information on wallpaper cleaners. Washable wallpaper can be washed like an
ordinary wall, but care must be taken not to soak the paper. Work from
bottom to top to prevent streaking.
Do not dry your furniture in the sun. The wood will warp and twist out of
shape. Clear off the mud and dirt by scrubbing with a stiff brush and a
cleaning solution. You can also rub the wood surface with a 4/0 steel wool
pad dipped in liquid polishing wax, wipe with a soft cloth and then buff.
Remove the drawers and let them dry thoroughly so there will be no sticking
when you replace them. Wet wood can decay and mold, so allow it to dry
thoroughly. Open doors and windows for good ventilation. Turn on your
furnace or air conditioner, if necessary. If mold forms, wipe the wood with
a cloth soaked in a mixture of borax dissolved in hot water. To remove white
spots or film, rub the wood surface with a cloth soaked in a solution of a
half cup of household ammonia and a half cup of water. Wipe dry and polish
with wax, or rub the surface with a cloth soaked in a solution of a half cup
turpentine and a half cup of linseed oil. Be careful because turpentine is
Money Replacement - Handle burned money as little as possible.
Attempt to encase each bill or portion of a bill in plastic wrap for
preservation. If money is only half-burned or less (if half or more of the
bill is intact), you can take the remainder to your local Federal Reserve
Bank for replacement. Ask your personal bank for the nearest one. Or you can
mail the burned or torn money via FIRST CLASS REGISTERED MAIL to:
U.S. Treasury Department
Main Treasury Building, Room 1123
Washington, D.C. 20220
Mutilated or melted coins can be taken to the Federal Reserve Bank, or
mailed via FIRST CLASS REGISTERED MAIL to:
Superintendent, U.S. Assay Office
32 Old Slip
New York, NY 10005
If your U.S. Savings Bonds have been mutilated or destroyed, write to:
U.S. Treasury Department
Bureau of Public Debt
Division of Loans and Currency
537 South Clark St.
Chicago, IL 60605
Attn.: Bond Consultant
Include name(s) on bonds, approximate date or time period when purchased,
denominations and approximate number of each.