Tips for Returning Home After a Wildfire
After a wildfire dies down, you may be anxious to head home. It’s important that you don’t return to your home until authorities say it’s safe, Ready.gov says. It’s also a good idea to listen to authorities for notices about whether your water is safe to drink. Once you get the all clear to go home, you may need to take steps to assess any damage to your property and begin the cleanup process.
Use Caution When You Return
Even after the fire is out, there may be pockets of heat in the ground that could burn you and your pets, or even start another fire, Ready.gov says. Stay away from any live embers, smoldering debris, hot ashes and burned trees as a precaution. In addition, check the exterior of your home and roof for sparks or embers, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention (CAL FIRE) says. Continue checking your home, including the attic, for smoke, sparks or embers, because wind may still carry embers that could threaten your home, the American Red Cross advises.
Other signs of damage outside may also indicate problems indoors, the Red Cross says. Look for hazards like loose power lines and broken gas lines. If you spot a problem, arrange for a professional to inspect it before you enter your home. Firefighters may have shut off utilities at your home, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says. If your utilities are off, do not turn them back on until authorities say they are safe to use.
Check Your Home for Damage
The Red Cross suggests taking additional safety precautions as you return home. Leather gloves and thick-soled shoes may help protect your hands and feet as you inspect your property. If it’s not raining when you enter your home, open the windows and doors to help air it out.
The Red Cross also recommends wetting down debris and wearing a dust mask with a nose clip to help prevent yourself from inhaling contaminants. As you walk through the house, avoid putting weight on items that may be damaged, such as stairs or furniture. If the floor is sagging, the Red Cross says to avoid walking on it because it could collapse.
If you can’t live in your home until damage is repaired, FEMA suggests boarding up any openings to prevent others from entering and letting the local police know that your home will be unoccupied.
Begin Cleaning Up
Even if your home isn’t damaged by the fire, it may have sustained smoke damage, FEMA says. If your home sustained smoke damage, pressure washing may help clean up the exterior of your home, such as siding and driveways, while interior areas, like walls, closets and cabinets, should be washed with mild soap and rinsed.
The Red Cross suggests throwing away any medications, food or beverages that were exposed to heat, smoke or soot. It’s a good idea to create an inventory, which may help if you file an insurance claim. Photos can help provide proof of damage.
If you have to rebuild after a wildfire, consider using fire-resistant materials and strategically choosing landscaping to help protect your home from a future fire.
Returning home after a wildfire can be overwhelming. By taking precautions as you prepare to move back in, you can help ensure that you and your family stay safe after the fire is over.