Aftermath of a fire
October 21, 2014 10:30 AM   Subscribe

A fire broke out in my apartment early Sunday morning. Thankfully, my cat and I both escaped (we both were treated for smoke inhalation) and I had a neighbor call 911. Now I have a ton of things to do as I try to move forward, and I'm hoping some of you know of helpful resources and ideas. ( The Red Cross is taking care of my immediate needs.) More info below.

I rent this apartment and, naturally, didn't have renter's insurance because what could ever happen? This plan is being revised. So I (and my parents) will be paying out of pocket for replacing items and also for cleaning/smoke removal, though my very sweet landlord has insurance to cover the actual repairs.

First, let me say that I am single and all my family is 800 miles away. I do not have a car or even a valid driver's license right now. I have some friends in this town but not a lot. I am not affiliated with a church. Also, I am on disability and don't work, so I don't have a support network of coworkers. Please keep all of that in mind--a lot of people often suggest to get help from x or y person, but not all of us have anybody we can call.

The adjuster said it will take about two months until I can move back in. I am naturally concerned about housing, but that is not my primary question since I'm working with the Red Cross and Tenant Resource Center on that.

Basically, what I am trying to figure out is the logistics involved in the cleaning. I have to have all of my possessions out before the cleaning team can come in. I feel like it would be too hard on me to do that (emotionally and physically, not just from all the effort--I have a lot of stuff--but also because I'm currently trying to diagnose some kind of chronic lung thing that keeps giving me bronchitis and such and therefore feel like smoke would be extra dangerous). I imagine it's most prudent to get a storage unit and find someone on Angie's List or somewhere that can do this. Does anybody have a better idea? And would I need to find specialized movers?

There is also the matter of the smoke damage to pretty much all of my possessions. My living room was largely untouched, thankfully, but I am sure there is still plenty of smoke in the fibers of the couch and such. I have a large closet there which is full of boxes of books (so glad they are ok!) and I also have a decent-sized collection of artwork that I've done. I talked a bit to the ServPro guy about the artwork, but I'm still evaluating how much I'd want to invest in cleaning that up. Since the books were boxed up in a closet at the far end of a room largely unaffected, I don't know what I should do for them, if anything.
Then there is the matter of clothes. I have a lot of them, and especially without a vehicle, it's hard to figure out how to get all of them smoke-free again. I think there is a laundry service in town that I can check into, but not sure how they deal with super-smoky clothes, and I want to be careful due to the aforementioned lung problems.

I am probably overlooking some other obstacles that I will have that I've not yet foreseen, so please speak up also if you can think of anything I haven't addressed that I should prepare for.
posted by mermaidcafe to Grab Bag (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Call 1-800-Got Junk. They're awesome at this stuff and they're affiliated with You Move Me. They can sort out the good stuff from the bad, get rid of what can't be salvaged and can help deliver what can to a storage unit.

The guy who owns both in our town was AMAZING to work with. Call your local guy and explain what happened. I'm sure he can work with you on a rate, and make recommendations.

As for cleaning, Servpro is typically who's called in on this stuff.

If you have lung problems, stay FAR AWAY from the unit and your stuff.

Hang in there!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:37 AM on October 21, 2014

You may have to take most of your clothing to be professionally (dry? i think) cleaned by people who specialize in smoke damage. This can be fantastically expensive and you are likely better off throwing out the majority of stuff. I had to throw away all cushioned furniture after a fire because the cleaning would have been more expensive than the value of the stuff. (luckily it was only a mattress and a boxspring)

The clothing I got cleaned (if you are in NYC metro area i will try and track down the people i used if you want, although it was like 15 years ago) came back pretty much totally free of smoke stink, and as someone whose lifelong migraines are scent triggered, I say this with total confidence.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:47 AM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also IIRC the stuff that they recommended I not even bother trying to rescue was clothing and blankets and whatnot made from synthetic fibers. I'm not sure if cleaning methods have changed since then, though, but it's something to keep in mind if you've washed the same polyblend/microfleece sweatshirt 10 times and it's still smelly.

Although now that I think about it more, maybe they said that this was the fabric that would be easiest to deodorize and wools would be the hardest?

ugh this comment is useless im sorry
posted by poffin boffin at 10:57 AM on October 21, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for the tip on GOT-JUNK! You Move Me moved me into the apartment, and they were great. Can't say enough good things about them.
posted by mermaidcafe at 11:03 AM on October 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Just an overall piece of advice from something that happened to friends after a fire: make sure you keep every receipt for your expenses, and get everything documented in writing with regard to compensation and support (items, services, housing, and anything else given to you including by the Red Cross), and ask the Red Cross for referral to an accountant who knows how to deal with this.

You'd think losing everything you owned was the worst, but getting audited and fined for it is a real close tie.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:06 AM on October 21, 2014 [7 favorites]

Were you the cause of the fire? If not you can claim on your landlord's insurance. If your landlord's insurance is paying for the repairs it sounds like you were not at fault otherwise they would be coming after you for the damages.
posted by srboisvert at 11:07 AM on October 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

If you're still in the same area as before, I definitely know people who would help with sourcing new items and/or moving old ones. I see requests for help after house/apartment fires shockingly often and people really are willing to pitch in for strangers.
posted by teremala at 12:24 PM on October 21, 2014

I had a big fire seven years ago. You can just wash all of your clothes and they'll be fine. The only clothes that were not fine were actually on fire at some point. Furniture too. They told me that the cute love seat I'd made pretty covers for would be more expensive to clean than it would be to buy another and then they accidentally packed one of the cushions in the POD. It didn't smell when we unpacked after the house was gutted and repaired. Neither did the leather couch. I have oil and acrylic paintings that are slightly dingy but are still perfectly nice to look at and don't smell. My books were fine. I baby-wiped off all of the covers and the sides. I have a few books that were in the actual room that burned that got hosed off. I left them open to dry and they are fine. The cleaners (who threw away all of my kids' unburned clothing and every single pair of my shoes when I wasn't looking) told us we had to throw away a LOT of stuff that ended up being perfectly salvageable.
posted by artychoke at 8:44 PM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

check your mefi mail.
posted by mjcon at 8:57 PM on October 21, 2014

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