After the fire’s out: a primer on fire and smoke damage claims

It can be both stressful and costly to get your home or business back to normal after a fire.

The National Fire Prevention Council reports that winter (specifically the months of December, January and February) is the busiest season for home fires. An estimated half of all home fires occur during this time, and even those of us in moderate climates like Florida aren’t immune; chilly nights might mean using space heaters, portable wood stoves, fireplaces and other heat sources that can cause fires.

No matter what the cause, a
fire in your home or business can be devastating. The damage from a fire goes far beyond the charring done by the flames. In fact, smoke and fire extinguishing efforts (water or chemical retardants) can often result in significantly more destruction than the fire itself. Though individual insurance policies vary, it is important to understand the myriad ways that a fire’s reach can be felt in your home so you can seek adequate coverage for your losses.

The obvious

The most obvious surface destruction in a fire will likely come from the flames themselves and the resulting heat. A big enough fire can literally reduce your home to ash. In addition, even if your home isn’t a total loss, the flames can irreparably damage your belongings. For example, furniture and bedding upholstery could be burned away, leaving only a metal frame and springs. Televisions, computers and other electronics can melt from the vast amount of heat given off by the fire. Commercial plastic and glassware can warp even if not actually touched by the flames.

The not-so-obvious

Many of the losses in a fire don’t come from the flames themselves, but instead from the soot or smoke put off by the fire, or the water and chemicals used to douse it. Soot often leaves an oily film that can possibly be cleaned by professional restorers or industrial-strength chemicals (depending on the extent of the damage), but in some instances it will permeate fabrics and walls, making restoration impossible. The same holds true of smoke; it can sometimes be cleaned, but stains and odors could linger on some surfaces, which might make replacement necessary.

The very water used to put the fire out could actually result in problems down the road, particularly in a hot, humid environment like Florida. If water seeps into the drywall, then it will not only push soot and smoke odors into the pores, it could result in mold issues later. Mold can be highly toxic, particularly to people with respiratory conditions, and mold remediation is a highly invasive and expensive process.

Getting the most out of your insurance coverage

If you have fire coverage as part of your home or business owner’s policy, understanding what types of damage is covered is an important part of filing a successful claim.
Insurance is designed to make you whole again after a fire-related loss, so that could include:

  • Structural damage from the fire or water (framing, walls, drywall, painting, siding, roof, electrical, plumbing, landscaping and more)
  • Furnishings (furniture, electronics, clothing, appliances, housewares, personal items, flooring, window treatments, artwork and more)
  • Vehicles destroyed by the fire or by extinguishing efforts
  • Smoke/soot intrusion
  • Mold (in certain circumstances this might be covered following a fire even if there is a mold exclusion on your policy)
  • Loss of business while repairs/rebuilding efforts are underway

Since fires can be so costly, it is not uncommon for insurance companies to make the claims process difficult or to deny or delay claims until exhausting criteria are satisfied. This can be hard to handle while you are still reeling from the loss. To make the process smoother, consider hiring an experienced insurance law attorney to do the proverbial “heavy lifting” on your behalf. If you are in Tampa, Brandon or New Port Richey (or surrounding areas), contact Williams Law Association, P.A. Call the firm at
(800) 451-6786 or
send an email today.