After a Wildfire: Five Mistakes to Avoid

Here's the scenario: an "Extreme Fire Behavior" alert was issued, and a fire near you began burning out of control. You followed you wildfire preparation plan and evacuated on time, but now the fire is over and you're ready to return home. Our advice? Put aside those feelings of wanting to get home as soon as possible, and be as methodical about planning your first visit back as you were planning your wildfire response .

After a wildfire, try to avoid making these mistakes:

Do not try to return to your home immediately after hearing on the news, online, etc. that the wildfire is over. Check with your community fire coordinator that the smoke in the air has cleared and it's safe to breathe before attempting to return to your house.

  • Do not enter your house in a casual manner. Sounds funny, right? Think about it this way: if you arrived home after an earthquake, would you just walk in the door? (No!) Make sure that you have basic heat protection, like heavy soled shoes and leather gloves before entering your house after a wildfire. Hot spots, debris, and structural damage all pose risks post-wildfire.
  •  On a related note, do not enter your house at all without ensuring basic structural integrity beforehand. What does this mean? It means don't assume the walls are solid, or that the roof hasn't been weakened by fire or water (e.g. fire suppression), even though you took steps to prepare your home from fire damage .  Take a moment before entering to look for signs of smoke emanating from the house, or other signs like lingering smoke odor or unnatural heat.
  • If you do find smolder spots (areas where a concealed fire might still be burning), do not try to tackle them by yourself. Even if you have some knowledge about how to fight fires, given the unpredictable nature of wildfire damage, it might not be enough, not to mention the potential structural damage. Contact the local fire authorities to ensure things are handled professionally.
  • Don't file an insurance claim until you've had a housing inspector come out and look at the property. Fire and smoke damage can be notoriously hard to identify, especially if the damaged is behind a wall or structural (It might seem counterintuitive, since we naturally associate smoke and fire damage with charred surfaces and easy-to-spot black marks, but remember... insurance companies are notoriously good at exploiting our tendency to make assumptions!). To maximize your insurance benefit, and make sure your damage is fairly compensated, ask an inspector to do a thorough report before submitting a claim.

Have a tip we haven't covered above? Please leave a comment and we'll review for potential inclusion into this list. Stay safe, and remember to be methodical and react accordingly in the event tomorrow's wildfire ends up closer than you expected.