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    Tips for Returning Home After a Wildfire Evacuation

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    Returning home after a wildfire evacuation can be overwhelming and challenging. It is crucial to prioritize safety and take necessary precautions during this process. In this article, we will provide some essential tips to help you navigate the aftermath of a wildfire and ensure a smooth transition back to your home.

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    1. What to Do When You Get Home

    When you return home after a wildfire evacuation, you must assess the situation before entering your property. Here are some steps to follow:

    • Check for any signs of structural damage, such as roof leaks or compromised foundations. If any major damage is visible, contact the appropriate professionals for evaluation and repairs.

    • Ensure that utilities such as electricity, gas, and water are safe before turning them on. If you suspect any damage or leaks, contact utility companies for assistance.

    • Be cautious while entering your home and watch out for debris, fallen power lines, or other hazards.

    2. Follow Safe Food and Water Practices

    After a wildfire, it is crucial to pay attention to food and water safety. Follow these guidelines:

    • Discard any perishable food items that were exposed to heat, smoke, or ash during the evacuation.

    • Prioritize using bottled water until you can ensure the safety of your tap water. If you suspect contamination, contact local authorities for information on water testing or purification methods.

    • Clean and sanitize all kitchen utensils, dishes, and surfaces before using them to avoid potential contamination.

    3. How to Deal With Smoke, Soot, and Odor

    Smoke, soot, and odor are common issues after a wildfire. Here's how you can address them:

    • Open all windows and doors to ventilate your home and encourage airflow.

    • Use air purifiers, especially those with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters to filter out soot particles and improve indoor air quality.

    • Clean surfaces with appropriate disinfectants or mild soap and water to remove soot residue.

    • Launder clothes, curtains, and other washable fabrics thoroughly to eliminate any smoke smells.

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    4. How to Clean Your Belongings

    Wildfires can leave ash and soot residue on your belongings. Here's how you can clean them:

    • Wear protective gloves, masks, and clothing before handling soot-covered items.

    • Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to remove loose soot from furniture, carpets, and other surfaces.

    • Carefully wipe down items with a dry cloth or sponge to remove remaining residue.

    • For delicate or valuable items, consider consulting professionals who specialize in fire damage restoration.

    5. Dealing With Structural Fire Damage

    In cases where there is significant structural damage to your property, it is important to seek professional help. Consider the following steps:

    • Contact your insurance company immediately to report the damage and initiate the claims process.

    • Document the damage through photographs and keep an inventory of all affected items.

    • Secure your property to prevent further damage, such as boarding up broken windows or covering damaged roofs.

    6. Claiming Additional Living Expenses

    If you had to evacuate your home due to a wildfire, you may be eligible to claim additional living expenses (ALE) from your insurance provider. ALE covers costs associated with temporary accommodation, meals, and other essentials. Here's what you should do:

    • Keep records and receipts of all expenses incurred during the evacuation period.

    • Contact your insurance company to understand the ALE coverage details and requirements.

    • Submit your claim with proper documentation to ensure a smoother reimbursement process.

    7. Coverage for Trees, Shrubs, Plants, and Lawns

    Check your insurance policy for coverage on landscaping and outdoor elements affected by the wildfire. Here are some steps to consider:

    • Document and take photographs of damaged trees, shrubs, plants, and lawns.

    • Contact your insurance provider to understand the coverage options and file a claim if applicable.

    • Consult an arborist or horticulturist to assess the damage and provide recommendations for restoration or removal.

    Returning home after a wildfire evacuation can be a challenging experience, but with the right knowledge and precautions, you can effectively overcome the obstacles. By following these tips, you can ensure a safer and smoother transition back into your home. Remember, prioritize safety at all times and seek professional help when necessary.

    Please remember that this list is not exhaustive — always follow advice from professionals and local authorities.

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    Originally published September 6, 2023, updated June 19, 2024

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