How to Recover from a Wildfire

It’s not easy to lose a home. When you’re grieving, recovery is hard to accomplish. This article will walk you through what you need to do, step by step, in order of priority.

Simply Displaced: Not Sure if Your Home Stands

Step zero starts when you’ve evacuated, you’re safe, and you have time and headspace to make important calls. The first call you need to make is to your insurance company. They need to know you were displaced by wildfire and you need to know what coverage you have for this kind of situation. They might have a policy that will help you get a hotel room versus staying at a shelter or on someone’s couch.

The next is to your family and friends. Your instinct will be to call them first, but don’t. Call them after. And make sure you get rest. If your home is gone, the next few months are going to be pretty hellish.

To sum it up, do these things while you wait to hear the news:

  1. Call Home/Rent Insurance Company
    1. Find out if you’re covered for fire.
    2. Will they cover your displacement costs? (hotel room, food, etc.)
    3. How much they will give you for a deposit and rent to get a new place to live if the time comes.
  2. Call Family/Friends

If you get to go back home, awesome! I have no idea what you do next. Probably go back to normal life and help those around you recover. For those of you that get the bad news and go home to rubble and ash, read on.

Fulfill Your Basic Needs

Now that your home is gone, you need to jump on your basic needs first. You won’t be able to fulfill the rest until you have the basics. If you were diligent and rested, ate, and stayed hydrated during your waiting period, then you’re ready to secure shelter… if not, I suggest doing both at the same time.

Finding a new place to live should be your first priority. First, call your insurance company again to get confirmation on your allowance for lodging and also to have them send your first check. Next, find a place to live. There will be hundreds or thousands of displaced people in the same area. You have days to sit on hold with your insurance company and minutes to jump ahead of them in line for a fire-victim special on a new place to live.

Even if you don’t move in for another few weeks, as long as you secure something, you will feel better about it. Otherwise, you might not find anywhere that’s plausible to live. You need to get yourself secure and find somewhere you can use as a home base to feel safe again. It will take time, but eventually, you will feel normal again.

Your first priority is finding a new place to live.

Get Your Goods! Donations are for YOU

Don’t be ashamed of the fact that you’re now taking donations from people all over the state. I’ve done it twice now and sometimes you get really amazing things. Also, it helps other people feel good to help you. Help them help you to help them help themselves… Yup.

Go get the clothing. Go get the houseware. Go get the food. Get it all. You need it and it will help offset the massive amount of money you’re about to spend replacing all your things.

If you didn’t have insurance or your insurance just won’t be enough, start a fundraiser. NO, not on Facebook. NO, not on GoFundMe. Use WordPress and GiveWP and don’t pay anyone a single dime in fees. It’s all about the power of Open Source.

Apply for Everything

Guess what, FEMA money is sparse. There is a limited amount for any disaster. If you want aid from FEMA, the Red Cross, or any similar organization, you better apply quickly. Thousands of people are doing the same. But please, if you don’t need federal or NGO assistance, don’t take it. There are limited funds and they can help those less fortunate than you are.

If you need help applying for FEMA, they’ve provided instructions here. You can visit the Disaster Assistance website to get started with your application. Your local Red Cross should also have some sort of program for relief. CalFund has a wildfire relief fund as well. You can contact them to find out how to benefit from their efforts.

Make all the Calls

This is the worst part actually. Saying, “Hi, my house burned down,” over and over again gets old. It’s also slightly degrading to hear the variations of responses repeatedly. BUT, it must be done. Do it, and do it after you’ve gotten yourself slightly situated and rested well.

By this point, you should have been working closely with your insurance company. If you haven’t, call them immediately. Then, call anyone you owe money to and ask them to put payments on hold. Federal Student Loans are put on a natural disaster forbearance for three months when you suffer from wildfire loss. Banks etc. will do the same in various circumstances.

Call anyone and everyone and see what you can get from it because, to be honest, YOU NEED IT. It’s not begging. It’s literally just saying “Hey, I’m in a really hard place and I’m about to spend thousands of dollars replacing everything I owned. Can you help me in any way?”

Also, don’t forget to call your boss. They might want to give you a little bereavement time and possibly… a bonus. At the very least, you’ll get a few days to get your life together. And if you’ve already missed a few, they will forgive you.

Make these calls after you’ve found a place to live & applied for aid:

  1. Home/ Rent Insurance Company!!!! (if you haven’t already)
  2. Your Boss
  3. Mortgage Company
  4. Debt Collectors
  5. Credit Card Companies
  6. Federal Student Loan Processors

Join Your Community

You’re not the only one who’s suffering and you do not have to go through it alone. There are others and you can heal together. If you don’t join a fire victim support group, then at least join your local community via Facebook pages or other methods. You shouldn’t go through this level of loss alone.

Make a List

Whether for your insurance company or an eventual lawsuit, start thinking of things you lost. Your insurance company might have a spreadsheet to work with for this. If not, your lawyer will (if you end up in a lawsuit). It’s important to have your list of possessions ready as soon as possible so you can get the check from your insurance company and start moving on.

In the case of a lawsuit, this is what will be used to determine the size of your settlement in the end. Other factors will go into play, but essentially they will pay for what you lost at the very least.

Call a Lawyer

Oh yeah, by the way, a lot of the time, human error is responsible for these fires. Both of the fires that burned my homes were the fault of utility companies. Call a California Wildfire attorney and get yourself on the case. It’s worth it. If the fire is found to be completely natural, then you won’t pay a dime. But if it’s not, you’ll end up much better off in the long run.

The California Wildfire Attorney Group is a great place to start.

The Steps to Recovery

To sum it up, here are the steps to recovering from a wildfire:

  1. Play the waiting game: Evacuate early, rest, and call your insurance company.
  2. Find a place to live: Be first in line to get a new place to live.
  3. Apply for everything: FEMA first! You’re fighting thousands of people for relief funds. Don’t take them if you don’t need them.
  4. Make all the calls: Call everyone including your boss, bank, credit card companies, Federal Student Loan processors, mortgage company, etc.
  5. Join the Community: Don’t go through this alone.
  6. Make a List: Start recalling everything you lost and get ready for insurance or a lawsuit.
  7. Call a Lawyer: Always call a lawyer, just in case it was someone’s fault.

All of this is made much easier if you prepare beforehand. I wrote an article on how I’m currently preparing for a wildfire, so if it hasn’t happened to you yet, use that to prepare in advance! If it has already happened, prepare for next time. There WILL be a next time. This is California, we burn.

Help Us Help Others

$170 of $1,500 raised

Before it Burns is a passion project started by those who have suffered from loss due to wildfires. The funding to start a nonprofit is steep, but those involved are dedicated to the mission: empowering communities to bury their power lines and prepare for emergency evacuations in the event of a fire.

What will this organization do?

  • Encourage fire-preparedness in communities.
  • Help communities organize efforts to put power lines underground.
  • Provide fire evacuation kits for families and individuals.

Your contribution here will go towards beginning the foundation as a true 501(c)(3) and the current content on this website.
Please take note that since this is not a 501(c)(3) organization yet, your donation on this form will not be tax deductible.

Right now, we’re focusing on building the proper structure and financing to get off the ground. Right now we’re currently forming our board and reaching out to local partners. If you’d like to be more directly involved, let us know.

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