The effects of a fire are usually unexpected and devastating. Over the years I have been involved in post-fire assessments and have found that the effects it has on the occupants of the home are very significant. Thank goodness the victims of fire I have worked with were not physically harmed however the initial shock of the their home being destroyed and how close to danger they were, has brought on anxiety about what might have been as they stood out on the street in horror and watch the fire fighters put out the fire. In one particular recent event our clients only woke up to the fire in the roof because their burglar alarm panel happened to be next to the area where the fire started and the panel overheated and melted the wires within the system. This created a fault and triggered the siren to sound which was probably powered by the battery due to the power tripping off to the house. The two parents and their two young children evacuated as the fire was raging from their roof and visible from the street.
What now? The house is badly damaged and not liveable. It will be days and possibly weeks before just the assessment on damage and repairs are completed – let alone the actual repairs or replacement and having to go through the building consent process. Where do you stay and what will the insurers cover? Prices of rental properties vary depending on demand, duration of the time you need to stay and the size of house you need amongst other aspects. Do you even have insurance? You must call them immediately if you do.
At this point you will be hoping that the loss adjuster provides a suitable repair strategy. If copious amounts of water have been blasted into your home, or there is substantial damage you may want to consider employing a Registered Building Surveyor to survey the damage and provide you with an independent report. You might find the insurers are willing to pay for the report if they believe it is important to the process and outcome. Either way, you will have independent and accurate information on the extent of damage and repair strategy. Fire damage is often more extensive than first imagined. Water sits inside the walls which will most likely create an environment for mould. If the dampness is not removed within 48 hours (perhaps even less time than this) then mould will begin to develop. It’s about what type of mould that develops is the worry. Some moulds are toxic which could lead to health issues and some attack certain timbers that the house may be constructed from and cause decay and loss of strength to the building. It is crucial for such moulds to be treated appropriately as soon as possible. This may include treating with an anti-fungal Boron based brush on timber treatment. Under floor insulation will most likely require removing to access mould affected surfaces.
The smell of smoke lingers for years unless the affected materials are removed or properly encapsulated with special paint and this will mostly likely involve removing certain components to access all exposed surfaces of the timber or other materials – such as the roof cladding, wall linings or flooring depending on the affected areas of the fire and smoke damage.
How to lessen your risk of fire and associated stress;
- Smoke alarms saves lives – and possibly your home. Visit here to get the latest information about smoke alarms on where to install, what type to install, and how and when to test batteries. There is also an abundance of very useful information about fire safety tips in general. See The New Zealand Fire Service Website – www.fire.org.nz.
- If you have a relatively low level of dust in your roof space, you should install a suitable smoke detector in an easily accessible area/s to detect smoke in the roof space at early stages. Check this is suitable before purchasing smoke detectors as some roof spaces are very dusty and may trigger false alarms. Be sure to install them in a reasonably accessible area to avoid climbing through difficult or dangerous spaces. The ideal place is at the highest point of the roof structure where smoke will first accumulate. Consider employing an electrician to do this as there are health and safety risks.
- Contact the insurance company as soon as you can and they will inform you about the next steps you take.
- Employ the services of a Registered Building Surveyor to assess the effects of water damage and determine the extent of repair so you can have peace of mind that the repairs are suitable and reduce the risk of health issues in the future relating to mould.