How is my home secured after a fire if I'm gone

If I’m travelling, or at work, and there’s a fire in my home, door busted in and windows blown out, belongings now smoked and soaked but half the house is still there, how is the home secured when firefighters leave the scene, and who is responsible?

Also, how do I learn what happened? Do I just pull into the driveway later and figure things out or does someone hang around? I hope they don’t just leave me a note. “Hi, we put your fire out. Have a nice day!”.

The short answer is that they will try their best to contact you. They will talk to your neighbors and try to find out where you work and whether you are likely to be around. They can also google you and find a lot out that way.

If you’re out of the country on vacation, or for work, there probably isn’t much they can do, but hopefully there is a local friend or relative who would be willing to secure your home, assuming that’s even possible. Someone at work may know where you are staying while on business.

A local friend or relative may be able to track you down no matter where you are in the world… but if you don’t tell anyone where you are going, and you don’t have a working cell phone and aren’t checking your email, you may not find out until you get home.

They aren’t going to hang around until you get home since they have to get back to the station and wait for the next call, but from my experience it takes many hours to ensure that the fire is completely out and there are no hot spots. During that time they will try to track you down, let you know what happened, and either get you home or find someone who can stand in for you.

If you live in a remote area, you may be SOL.

While the local sheriff’s department might send a cruiser by once a day or so until they can get a hold of you, even this might be sketchy if they have a serious traffic accident somewhere else, a serious crime occurring or if there’s an on-going natural disaster. Your home will be taped off and they will try to contact you. That’s about it.

This is one of the reasons that it is crucial that you either have a family member or trusted friend come by and check on your home while you are away. Or that you hire a property management company and have them perform spot checks on your home with instructions to contact you if something should occur.

I knew a person who had a remote cabin in Central Idaho and he didn’t leave any contact info for the local authorities to get in touch with him. He returned to the cabin about a month after some squatters had broken in and apparently started a fire by accident, severely damaging the cabin only to find that it had been looted by people who saw it looking abandoned.

He had a difficult time with his insurance and I’m not certain if he ever got the matter completely resolved.

There is no generic answer here. It depends on where you live and what the fire department decides they want to do. It’s also going to depend on what’s in the house, if the house is insured etc.

In my area the fire departments tend to be well funded so they would likely to do their best to secure the premises and locate the owner or someone who will act on their behalf. If the owner can’t be located, I’d expect a fire fighter or police officer to hang around for a day or so and if they can’t find anybody to hand off to they’d board up the openings.

Legally I don’t think anyone beyond the owner has any responsibility so if you’re in a poor town that provides fire fighting services they might show up put out the fire and be on their way. Let you figure it out on you’re own.

You might want to give you’re local fire department a call and ask what their procedure is.

In Melbourne, AUS, the Police are authorised to contact any of the private companies that do security like this. I assume the same is true for the fire department, but for a fire like this I know the police would be attending as well.

The stuff I’m familiar with: somebody smashes the front window of a shop or bank. The police arrive, fill out some paperwork, contact the emergency shutters 24 hour number, the shutter people arrive and nail up some metal or plywood across your frontage.

The next day, you arrive, there’s a phone number written large across the shutters, and a large bill in the mail.

Yes, you have to pay: it’s reasonable to pay to have your property secured, and yes it costs a lot: it’s reasonable to charge a lot of money to have somebody on 24 hour call to come out in the middle of the night to secure a property. Nobody likes it, but most people (including the police) like the idea of leaving an unsecured property after a fire or break in even less.

Well hopefully you left some contact info with neighbours or a friend; you do that right?

I am in disaster restoration. The Fire Department has basic shoring and close up kits that they will use in simple situations (vehicle impact takes corner off garage for instance). We (not myself, but on-call crew) are usually there before the fire crew finishes with actual fires. A security firm is called to guard the site until it can be secured with portable fencing. If investigation is ongoing security will stay to make sure no one climbs the fence to tamper with evidence. If the structure itself can be secured against entry it is, usually simply with plywood. Sometimes I (carpenter) will get called if close up is difficult or there are structural uncertainties about entry.

Quite often policy holders are away during cause of loss, but we still are there in the middle of the night or whenever necessary to close up. We are contacted by the insurance company, I am not sure how they are contacted if the insured is away. I will ask at the office.

Yes, our neighbors could track us down.

I’m somewhat relieved to know a valuable fire or PD resource is not used as a 24 hour guard at taxpayer expense. They have better things to do.

Maybe they use county property title records to get the insurance company?

This question came to mind while watching an episode of COPS where they had to bust down a door to take custody of someone who lived alone. He lived in a rented apartment so I’m sure the property manager was notified quickly and maintenance took care of the door. I don’t anticipate the PD will be hauling us off to jail, but a fire is a scenario that could leave our property vulnerable. I just wondered. Thanks!

Actually, replacing doors which have been broken down is very expensive. Most landlords would have to wait until the next day or so to get someone out to repair them as the door jamb often needs to be replaced as well.

But it seems they would at least board it up to prevent vandalism or theft of fixtures, etc., regardless of concern for renter’s property.

This gets done in some places. The owner will be billed.

They could certainly nail up a plywood board or two over the opening. But despite what’s shown on television and the films, when someone forcibly breaks in or down a door it often causes major damage to the surrounding walls (there’s a serious meth problem in my area so seeing doors kicked in isn’t uncommon) that requires extensive repair work.