”]The hot rainless summer has had devastating effects here in Texas, most notably the fires that recently raged in central Texas. More than 1500 homes were destroyed, many pets lost or displaced, and worst of all, some people have lost their lives. The danger isn’t over yet, but those who lived in the fire zones are beginning to return to see what’s left of their homes. My colleague Joan mentioned a woman from her church who had lost everything. The woman wondered how she’d even begin making a survey of her property in the hope of getting something from the insurance company. She began by getting a registry list for brides at one of the home stores, which sounds like a good start, but it limits you to certain kinds of items. I began thinking what suggestions I could offer to those who have recently lost their homes. Sure, they could read my whole blog and get some ideas, but I have a lot of posts now as well as more perspective of those first weeks, so I thought I’d put forth some suggestions. These are based on my experience only, but hopefully some of these will help someone.
• First, save all receipts. Every single one. Even grocery ones. You never know what will be useful. Eventually you will want to account for a lot of so-called grocery items, including food from your pantry and refrigerator, all your cleaning products, and those dozens of miscellaneous grooming items from your bathrooms. I had to get pricing from my local stores for these, and it took quite a bit of time. Luckily, I had some grocery receipts, so I could copy those prices. Don’t neglect the little stuff. Twenty bottles of spices, ranging from $4-$7, really add up fast!
• Once you have your receipts, tape them to paper and copy them. If at all possible, scan them and e-mail them to yourself. That way you have another copy for the future. You’ll need to send those receipts to your insurance company eventually, and if you have them scanned, it’ll be easy to attach them to an e-mail.
• If you lost everything, it’ll be harder to inventory your possessions. Think who might have photos of you and your family with your stuff in the background. Do you have photos on Facebook? I do and I needed some of them to show what I had or to spark my memory. Go through your house in your mind, one room at a time and write down everything you can think of – just don’t do it all at once. It’ll be too overwhelming. Visit a department store, a grocery store, and a furniture store. Wander around and it will spark memories of what was in your house. You won’t remember everything all at once. My contractor told me that there would be some things I wouldn’t remember until a holiday or special occasion came around because I used an item only once a year. You can always add to your inventory later.
• If some of your stuff survived, you’ll still have to do a lot of the same as those who lost it all. In my case, although the contractor’s people listed everything they saw that was not salvageable, they made numerous errors, too. Most of us have a lot of stuff and it’s easy to lose track of every little thing. Whatever was saved from my house is now in storage, but until I move back and unpack, I won’t know exactly what’s missing. I’ll be adding to my inventory to send to the insurance guy then!
• Get help and let people help you! I have a hard time asking for help as do many others. It’s hard for me to accept gifts, too, but if people give you something, they want you to have it. Take it! You’ve just gone through a traumatic experience, you may have lost most or all your possessions, so give yourself a break and accept donations.
• Take care of yourself as best you can – eat right, get some exercise, try to sleep, visit with friends. Truthfully, I can’t say that I have done all these things equally well. It’s hard when I’m so stressed, but I try. Cut yourself some slack, especially the first month or two.
• Accept that you will be spending a lot of time dealing with the aftermath of the fire – insurance, contractors, temporary accommodations, and more. It will last for months, I’m sorry to say, but if you know what to expect, hopefully it won’t get you too down.
• Realize that rebuilding will take time, more time than your contractor says, and this is not entirely your contractor’s fault. There are a lot of inspectors who have to sign off on plumbing, electricity, etc., and until they do, your contractor can’t go to the next step.
Lastly, find the silver lining. My fire started because of a gas leak. The fire destroyed the kitchen and the smoke damaged the rest of the house. I lost about 75% of my furniture, most everything in my kitchen, and numerous other items I had collected over the years. The fire occurred two days before I was to put my house on the market to sell. I had spent months fixing up the house and had just put in carpeting upstairs (and I’m still paying for it!). But, and it’s a big but, my 20-year-old son (who was alone when the fire started) suffered only minor injuries, my dogs survived, and I have insurance. I experienced wonderful support from my friends and colleagues. My life plans may have been turned upside down, but the really important things turned out ok. I’ll also be getting new furniture and new electronics and a new, updated house interior, which will hopefully make it easier to sell. I wouldn’t have gone through the fire experience for any amount of money, but since it did happen, I might as well look at the bright side. You may not be able to do this at the beginning, but eventually, you can get there. It’s been over four months since my fire, and I can say that the worst is over. There’s a lot more work to finish up, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now. To anyone who is going through this experience, good luck to you!Bastrop fire – [photo K. Dodds”]”]