What To Do If Your Home Burned Down

A firefighter surveys the charred remains of a home that was being constructed on Dume Drive, after the Woolsey Fire swept through.

Dear Neighbor – Arnold and I, along with over 400 other families, lost our homes in the Malibu Fire of 1993. We formed a group that became known as Operation Recovery. Below is some of the wisdom from the O.R. group—the first steps to take after you lose your home:

1. Drive carefully and move slowly—many accidents happened after the fire, as everyone was so busy and distracted.

2. Carry a notebook and write everything down—everyone you speak to and everything they say, plus their contact information.

3. Keep your cell phone and computer charged. Back up your computer and carry back-up hard drives or discs in your car.  

4. Do not make any major decisions for at least a month.

5. Consider using an Independent Insurance Adjustor to represent you.

6. Start listing the contents of everything you lost. Room by room, drawer by drawer, cabinet by cabinet. Don’t forget the garage and garden—including plantings. You can add values later. Create a spread sheet. If you haven’t yet mastered Excel, this is the time.

7. Take photos of all damage to property and cars before and after demolition/clearance.

8. Initiate replacement of important documents—insurance, passports, birth certificates, important papers.

9. Organize—get together with your fire victim buddies/neighbors, at least weekly. This will assure you have the clout you need for proper representation to approach the city, county, FEMA and your insurance carriers.

10. Get help, accept assistance, don’t be proud—you need help, take it! Physical help, childcare, animal care and counseling. This is a hugely traumatic time. Expect to be disoriented, angry, frustrated and exhausted. Make a list of what friends can do for you when they ask and be prepared to give assignments (childcare, clerical support, errands, shopping, etc.). They really want to be useful and you need their help.

11. Get plenty of rest. Eat healthy. Limit smoking/drinking, if possible. Try not to go overboard on comfort foods. You need to be strong, alert and healthy.

12. Rent a place of your own—staying with friends and family is good for a short time, but you need your privacy and space even more than they do. Set up a desk and “business” area. You will now have a full time job recovering. Get organized with all correspondence, insurance papers and notes. Being able to put your hands on important papers/contact info, etc., as you need them is a great stress reliever.

13. Socialize. Take in a movie. Walk on the beach. Hang with others who are dealing with fire loss—your mutual support really helps.

14. You will get through this with your physical and mental health intact, although it will take some time and lots of energy.

15. Email us if you need help. We are not in our office, but will update this story as soon as we get back in so you can call us there. For now, send me an email to yorkgrp@verizon.net. 

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