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Fire Damage – Dos and Don’ts

Property owners can minimize damage to their property by taking appropriate action as quickly as soon as it is safe to do so. The following are dos and don’ts that might apply to your circumstances. Remember safety should always be your first priority.


  • When entering your property, look for structural damage to ceilings, roof and walls that might collapse;
  • Try to avoid inhaling the soot.  A respirator is recommended;
  • Make sure that all electrical appliances are turned off;
  • In the event of a fire that is limited to a portion of the property, IMMEDIATELY turn off your air conditioning system to prevent airborne soot particles from being spread to other areas;
  • Contain the damage by shutting doors in the affected area;
  • Change the furnace filter;
  • Open windows for ventilation;
  • Cover the air supply opening at the register with a double layer of cheesecloth;
  • Limit your movements within your home or business as much as possible;
  • Wipe off and protect the chrome on plumbing fixtures and appliances by applying a light coating of Vaseline or oil.  This will help to prevent the metal from pitting due to the acidic nature of the soot particles;
  • Keep hands as clean as possible. Soot, combined with the oil in your hands, can further contaminate walls, woodwork and upholstery. This can make the cleaning process more difficult;
  • If you have any items of material and emotional value than you can reach, remove them and keep them in a safe place;
  • Try to locate valuable documents and records. Contact the proper agencies for replacement of lost documents;
  • If your heat is off and there is a chance of below-freezing weather, pour anti-freeze in sinks, toilet bowls, and tubs;
  • If electricity is off, empty freezer and refrigerator completely and prop doors open to help prevent mold growth and odor;
  • If the home is uninhabitable, immediately arrange to have it secured from theft and weather to prevent further damage;
  • Consider forwarding your home phone number to a cell phone. The telephone company can assist with this;
  • Keep a written record of events, conversations, and actions;
  • If you use credit cards, designate one for everything related to the fire;
  • Save all receipts relating to your loss. These may be needed for insurance reimbursement; and last but not least
  • Consider your pets- you may want to board them or find temporary housing that accepts pets. If a pet was exposed to soot or smoke, you may also want to arrange for a check-up with a veterinarian.


  • Do not consume any canned or packaged food, beverages or medicines until the level of exposure to heat, smoke and soot has been determined. They may have been contaminated;
  • Do not throw away any damaged goods until an inventory has been taken;
  • Do not attempt to wash any walls, ceilings or other absorbent surfaces without consulting a professional first;
  • Do not attempt to clean carpet or upholstered furniture without consulting a professional first;
  • If the ceiling appears wet, do not turn on any ceiling lights or fan. Wiring may be wet or damaged and cause electrical shock, and air movement may;
  • Do not use any electrical appliances until they have been cleaned and inspected;
  • Do not take clothing, draperies, linens or other fabrics to a normal dry cleaner.  They require special treatment to fully remove soot and smoke odor;
  • Do not forget to pay your mortgage and other property related bills. You are still responsible for them even if the property is uninhabitable.

The above suggestions may not apply in every situation.  The most important thing to be aware of is the potential danger that can exist.  You must take appropriate precautions.

It is especially important that you do not attempt to clean or restore damaged wood, walls, carpets, draperies, clothing, furniture, or electrical appliances without first contacting a professional restorer. Improper cleaning can result in permanent discoloration.