Tips on How to Clean and Rebuild a Fire-Damaged Home

By Terry Mehilos | Aug. 01, 2018 5:49 am PST

Illustration of townhome on fire

Has your house been damaged in a fire? Whether you’ve suffered a wildfire or a home fire, read these simple tips for assessing fire damage and steps to clean up and restore your house and home appliances.

Fires at home are devastating, dangerous — and all too common. In fact, there are 358,500 residential structure fires each year, the National Fire Protection Association estimates. That comes to more than $6.5 billion annually in damage from smoke, fire and water.

Whether you suffered a wildfire or an interior home fire, use caution and get the all-clear from the fire department and/or your insurance company before re-entering your home and trying to assess the damage. Fires may start up again, even if it looks like they’re out, the Federal Emergency Management Agency warns.

Here’s what to be aware of as you begin to take stock of what’s happened to your house and your possessions after a fire.

Outside Your Home

  • Be cautious: Burned trees, power line poles and other structures may have become unstable, states Don’t go anywhere near downed power lines.
  • Keep watch: Smoke or sparks, ash pits or hidden embers on rooftops and gutters or near the foundation can burn you.
  • Spot trouble: Loose power lines, broken or damaged gas lines, cracks in the foundation, missing support beams or other exterior damage may be a sign of a serious problem on the interior, the American Red Cross warns.

Inside Your Home

  • Get a light: Use a battery-powered flashlight for your interior inspection. Turn it on when you’re outdoors in case there’s a gas leak inside. The battery may create a spark that could ignite if there’s leaking gas.
  • Check the utilities: If the fire department was involved, it will turn off utilities not deemed safe. Never turn them back on by yourself. If you don’t have power or gas, contact a licensed technician or the appropriate utility company to turn it back on for you.
  • Do a careful inspection: Damaged walls, furniture, stairs and other structures could be unstable. Avoid holding, pushing or leaning against anything. Water from putting out the fire could have caused your ceiling or floor to sag. Be extremely cautious when walking under or on these areas. Contact a professional restoration company if you have structural damage.
  • Toss food: When it comes to food in the cupboards, the first rule is, “When in doubt, throw it out.” Get rid of anything fresh or canned that was in contact with the water or the chemicals used to fight the fire. Canned goods may look all right, but the heat may have cooked their contents. The same goes for refrigerated items. Smoke may have leaked into the fridge or freezer. If your electricity was off, foods may have gone bad. If food has thawed in the freezer, get rid of it as well.
  • Examine your appliances for problems: Fire could have damaged numerous parts and systems inside an appliance, says Kevin Sweeney, an appliance expert at Sears Home Services. A technician would have to open up the unit to inspect the different components for damage.
  • See if there’s smoke damage as well: Smoke odors are another factor. Your refrigerator could have absorbed a smoke smell — unfortunately, this cannot be removed, states Travis Robertson, another appliance expert at Sears Home Services. Have a technician look at it. Other appliances such as the range, washer, dryer and dishwasher usually have some type of insulation that could absorb the odor; sometimes that insulation can be replaced. Contact a technician to see if your appliances suffered damage.

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