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What to Do After a House Fire: 16 Critical Steps

Have you experienced a house fire? Are you wondering where to turn now?

You don’t have to navigate this process on your own.

Here at ServiceMaster of Lake Shore, we’ve provided specialized fire damage restoration services for customers in the Chicago area since 1996.

In this blog, we’ve compiled our expertise to create a complete guide to help you cope in the aftermath of a house fire. 

Safety Precautions

  1. Don’t re-enter the space until you get clearance: Never enter your home after a fire until fire department officials have thoroughly inspected it and verified that it’s safe to return. 
  2. Avoid DIY cleanup: Fire cleanup is not a DIY project. To ensure your safety and get the job done right, you must contact a professional fire restoration service to handle the process. They have the expertise, equipment, and safety gear to do the job correctly and safely.
  3. Wear protective gear: If you need to enter your home, always wear proper protective gear, such as a face mask, gloves, and long-sleeved clothing. This will help you avoid coming into contact with toxic substances.
  4. Be mindful of electrical hazards: Fire damage can cause electrical issues in your home. Before entering, hire an electrician to assess and clear the property. 

What to Do After a House Fire: Checklist

immediate actions after house fire

Immediate Actions

1. Ensure everyone’s safety: Ensure all occupants are safe and accounted for. If anyone is injured, seek immediate medical attention.

2. Figure out where you’re going to stay: If the fire was large enough to destroy significant portions of your home, you may need to seek temporary housing for you and your family. This could be with friends, relatives, or a hotel. Local authorities or organizations like the Red Cross can also assist in finding emergency shelter. If the fire was small and localized, it may be okay to stay in your home – but be sure to ask firefighters and restoration professionals if that’s a safe choice, first. 

3. Secure the property: Once it’s safe, secure your property to prevent further damage or theft. This may involve boarding windows and doors and covering damaged roofs with tarps.

4. Document the damage: Take photos and videos of the damage to your property and belongings. Make a detailed list of all damaged items. This documentation will be crucial to support your insurance claim.

Financial and Legal Steps

5. Notify your insurance company: Contact your insurance company immediately after the fire to start the claim process. Provide a preliminary list of damages and follow their guidance for the next steps.

6. Save all receipts for fire-related expenses: Keep a detailed record of all costs incurred due to the fire, including accommodation, meals, and property repairs. These receipts will be necessary if your insurance company offers reimbursement. 

7. Review your insurance policy: Carefully review your policy to understand what your plan covers. Pay special attention to coverage limits and any deductibles that apply.

8. Obtain a copy of the fire report: Request a copy of the fire report from your local fire department. This document will be crucial for your insurance claim and any eventual legal actions you may need to take.

Recovery and Restoration Steps

professional fire damage cleanup

9. Hire a professional cleaning service: Look for a company like ServiceMaster of Lake Shore, which specializes in post-fire cleanup and restoration. Our team can safely remove soot, smoke, and water damage and restore your property to its pre-fire condition.

10. Salvage and clean up salvageable items: Assess what items can be salvaged and cleaned (the fire damage restoration company you work with can help with this process). Items like clothing and textiles may require specialized cleaning to remove smoke odors and stains.

11. Plan for repairs and renovations: After thoroughly assessing the damage, plan for necessary repairs and renovations. This may involve hiring contractors, obtaining permits, and designing a timeline for completion.

12. Address emotional and psychological needs: Recognize that recovering from a house fire is a physical and emotional process. Consider seeking support from counseling services and support groups to help you and your family cope with the trauma and stress caused by the event.

Long-Term Considerations

13. Review and update insurance policies: Periodically review your insurance policies to ensure your coverage meets your current needs. Factor in changes to your home or its contents and adjust your policy to avoid being underinsured.

14. Implement fire safety measures: Install smoke detectors on every floor of your home and test them monthly. Consider adding fire extinguishers to critical areas, especially the kitchen, and ensure all family members know how to use them. Prepare and regularly practice an emergency evacuation plan with all household members.

15. Create an inventory of home contents: Maintain a detailed inventory of your home’s contents, including photographs or videos, receipts, and descriptions. Store this information securely off-site or in a digital cloud service, making it easier to file accurate insurance claims if needed.

16. Rebuild with fire resistance in mind: When repairing or rebuilding your home, consider using fire-resistant materials for roofing, siding, and interior construction to enhance your home’s resilience against future fires. Consult with professionals about fire-resistant building options and safety features that can be incorporated.

In Chicago? ServiceMaster of Lake Shore is Here to Help

fire damage cleanup chicago

If you’ve experienced a house fire, you don’t have to deal with the aftermath alone. Here at ServiceMaster of Lake Shore, we specialize in providing expert fire damage cleanup services to help you get life back to normal.

Ready to learn more? Contact us today.


How long after a fire can you move back in?

The timeframe for moving back into your home after a fire depends on the extent of the damage, the speed of the cleanup efforts, and the time required for repairs and reconstruction.

Minor fires might allow for a quicker return (potentially within weeks), whereas more significant damage could extend the timeline to several months.

Before you think about moving back in, ensure you have a thorough inspection and clearance from local building or health authorities, confirming that the home meets all safety codes and regulations post-restoration.

Do you have to throw everything away after a house fire?

Not everything must be thrown away after a house fire, but it’s essential to carefully evaluate all items for damage.

Items directly damaged by fire, smoke, or water may need to be discarded. Non-porous items like some furniture, glass, metal, and plastics can often be professionally cleaned and restored.

Meanwhile, porous materials like clothing, mattresses, and upholstered furniture can absorb smoke and contaminants and often require replacement.

A professional restoration service can help determine which items are salvageable. Personal safety and health should always be the primary concern when deciding whether to keep or discard fire-damaged items.

Can you sleep in a house after a fire?

Sleeping in a house after a fire is generally not recommended until it has been professionally assessed and deemed safe.

Fires can compromise a building’s structural integrity and release harmful chemicals from burned materials, leading to unsafe living conditions. Additionally, smoke residue can pose serious respiratory health risks.

It’s crucial to wait for a thorough inspection by fire safety and structural professionals and to ensure that any necessary cleaning, repairs, and safety checks have been completed before considering returning to live or sleep in the home. In the meantime, finding an alternate place to stay is advised for the safety and well-being of all occupants.

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(312) 707-8597


Our office is located in downtown Chicago, IL just west of Millennium Park, nearby Willis Tower and Magnificent Mile. We provide 24 hour emergency fire and water damage cleanup to all of Chicagoland including Lincoln Park, Logan Square, Gold Coast, Lake View, Magnificent Mile and Little Village. We also provide a variety of specialty cleaning services.