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What to do after a fire

Surrey Fire and Rescue gives the following advice to give you some general assistance as you start to return to normality after a fire in your building or vehicle.

Protecting your property after a fire

  • Close all doors and windows if it is safe to do so.
  • The fire service may use large sheets to protect your property. This is a temporary measure only and you should arrange to have them replaced within a reasonable length of time.
  • If windows and doors need boarding up, look under Glaziers in the Yellow Pages. If you are insured the insurance company will normally pay for this and may be able to help you find a provider. As insurance policies differ widely, it is impossible to state definitely whether this will be covered by your policy.
  • If you are a tenant, contact your housing provider or landlord who will arrange boarding-up for you. If you are a council tenant and require a "boarding-up service", please contact your local Housing Department or Direct Works Department who will carry out the services free of charge. If it is safe to do so remove valuables and items of importance such as passport, legal documents etc.
  • Contact your local Police to let them know your property will be empty.

Accommodation

If your property is inhabitable or if you have doubts about the suitability of your accommodation after the fire and you can't stay with friends or relatives you can:

  • Contact the housing department of your local authority who may be able to help.
  • Contact your insurance company who may cover the cost of bed and breakfast or hotel accommodation.
  • If you are going to be out of your property for some time you may want to find rented accommodation. Local housing agencies will have a list of accommodation.

Pets

Accommodation for animals can be arranged through your local telephone directory under "Boarding Kennels". Check with your insurance company to see if they will cover the costs.

Ventilation

The smell of smoke will persist even after thorough cleaning, but the main problem will be from residual fumes which can be dangerous to breath. Keep windows and doors wide open as long as possible without compromising security.

Drying out

There will always be some water damage. Suck up as much as possible with a special vacuum or pump, mop and leave to dry naturally. De-humidifiers can be helpful in poorly ventilated areas. This equipment can be easily hired.

Cleaning

Smoke staining is caused by carbon deposits and by oils or tars in fire gases. They can be very difficult to remove with ordinary cleaners. Dry carbon deposits can sometimes be gently vacuumed from soft furnishings but care must be taken not to smudge or rub in further. Paintwork can be sponged over with sugar soap and warm water. Some commercial cleaning contractors specialise in this type of work. Redecoration may be the only solution in the worst cases.

It is natural for you to want to clean your property and contents but be careful because taking the wrong action can cause more damage.

  • Specialist local firms can help you. Don't forget to contact your insurance company or landlord/council first before arranging for a company to clean up.
  • Remember your safety should always be your first thought. Open doors and windows to clear the air in your home while you are there.
  • Don't delay as cleaning will become harder the longer you leave it.

Do

  • Carefully clean fixtures, fittings, towel rails and chrome trim with a light coating of petroleum jelly or other oil.
  • Lightly remove soot from fabrics and surfaces using a vacuum cleaner with a high quality filter - use an open pipe and not a brush.
  • Locks should be taken apart, wiped with paraffin and oiled. If unable to do this, squirt machine oil through opening and move the handle to spread the oil.
  • Thoroughly clean and oil hinges on doors and windows.
  • Keep your freezer closed if your electricity will be back on within 24hrs. Make sure the freezer is not affected by water, heat or smoke.
  • Call a plumber to drain the heating system if it is unable to be used in winter.
  • Remove pets, including fish to a clean place.
  • Use dehumidifiers to remove water from the atmosphere, you can hire these from tool hire companies. Wipe or attempt to wash absorbent surfaces on walls or ceilings, as the dirt will soak into the surface.

Don't

  • Use food or canned goods that have been affected by heat or smoke and do not refreeze thawed food. To avoid getting ill, if in doubt throw it out.
  • Use affected electrical appliances until cleaned and checked by a qualified person.
  • Use LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) heaters to dry out as they create water vapour.

Documents

Make sure that all your legal documents are safe and contact the issuing authority quickly for any replacements needed. Items such as passports, birth and marriage/divorce certificates, financial records including pass books and social security documents, deeds, and wills all need to be accounted for. The local Citizens Advice Bureau may be able to advise you who to contact. Retain documents that appear damaged; they may be sufficient to validate your claim for a replacement.

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Insurance claim

If you are insured you should contact your insurance company as soon as possible. They will give you advice and may have a list of companies they deal with to help you. Keep in contact with your insurance company regularly ensuring any work carried out is covered by your policy.. An Insurance Assessor will help you with your claim.

Enquiries and investigations

There are a number of statutory authorities who may have an interest in the incident, including the Police, Coroner, Health and Safety Executive and Fire Service. Check identity cards carefully. Start making notes of what is said and things that happen. Loss adjusters may be appointed to check your insurance claims.

Utilities

Do not reconnect or turn on gas supplies, electric supplies, fuel, oil or water supplies until a qualified person has assessed them. Contact your suppliers to get any of the supplies reconnected

Cars

It is your responsibility to remove your damaged car and associated debris from the highway. This may be done under the terms of your breakdown recovery service or motor insurance policy. Report the incident formally to the police if the fire was the result of a collision, suspected arson or if someone (or an animal) was injured.

Chimney fires

Place a spark guard in front of the fire, and leave the chimney to cool for 24 hours before re-lighting the fire. Have the chimney swept as soon as possible and then regularly at least once a year. If you burn low grade fuels such as wood, the chimney will need sweeping more often.

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Computers

Data can often be recovered by specialists, so don't discard disks or equipment that appears damaged. Smoke, dirt and miss handling can do more damage than water.

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