Assessing damage outside and inside of homes after a wildfire
Wednesday, March 11, 2020
Oklahomans affected by a wildfire may be wondering what to look for inside and outside when assessing the damage to their homes.
Generally, hazards homeowners may find include unstable charred trees and power poles, live power lines on the ground, spot fires, smoldering debris, live embers and ash pits.
“There could be structural damage, as well as damage to utilities and electrical, plumbing and heating systems,” said Gina Peek, Oklahoma State University Extension housing and consumer specialist.
Fire departments and other emergency management personnel will check outside the structure for hazards such as loose or down power lines and broken or damaged gas lines. Missing support beams could indicate major issues inside the home.
Ask the fire department to check utilities for safety or to make sure they are disconnected.
“For example, if your home uses natural gas, there should be no odor of gas or hissing sounds. If there are, leave immediately and contact the fire department,” Peek said. “If there are sparks, broken or frayed wires or the odor of hot insulation, the fire department will turn off the electricity at the main fuse box.”
Homeowners should only enter their houses after fire or emergency management personnel have given the all clear and declared the structure safe to enter.
If the home has been cleared for entry, take a few minutes and find some protective clothing and equipment.
“Dress for the hazards you may face by wearing boots, long pants, long-sleeved shirt and gloves,” Peek said. “For additional protection, you can bring a mask.”
Upon entering the house, proceed with caution. Do not cut or remove any tape placed by the fire department or building inspector marking damaged areas.
Watch for sharp objects such as broken glass.
“Fire hoses and rain can make roofing material, sheetrock and plywood extremely heavy and dangerous if it falls,” Peek said. “Move cautiously around other possibly damaged areas of the house and avoid shifting or leaning against damaged furniture that could be unstable.”
Call a qualified electrician to check for any electrical problems or issues with appliances. If there is suspected damage to water pipes, turn off the water and contact a plumber.
Homeowners also should contact their insurance company.
“Take pictures or video the damage before you move anything. The photos and videos will be helpful for insurance and tax purposes,” Peek said.