Documenting Fire and Storm Damage

If possible, document the internal and external damage ASAP. Talk with recovery officials regarding safety issues you should be aware of - safety first! - as well as key areas/items you should take pictures of.

Keep in mind you may need to be escorted by officials and you may have a short amount of time.

Insured? Don't do anything until you speak with your agent; it could affect settlements. And, ask about immediate protection you can take to secure your home.


WHN STAFF TIP: Use Two Cameras

Use both video and still photography. Borrow a camera if yours was destroyed. Consider using a smartphone ONLY if you have a backup phone or you have electricity to charge your phone.

  1. Start with one area/room and then move to another. If there are two or more people, assign rooms and hallways.
  2. Take pictures of everything from multiple angles (just like what you see on CSI), even if your house is completely destroyed.
  3. Take both wide shots and close-up shots of damaged or missing parts of the house, rooms, furnishings, and personal property.
  4. For each photo and video, include a description of the item, its age, and the cost to buy it now at a current price.
  5. Keep in mind that you want your photos to show the overall context of the damage so that you can make your case to a claims adjuster. If you have prior pictures that could serve as pre-disaster documentation, find them or ask a relative or friend in another area to download them.

WHN READER TIP: Lost Photos in the Storm of Fire?

Call family and friends and ask them for pictures they have taken at your house (holidays, birthdays, etc.). The house, rooms, outdoor shots, garage will be in the background and you can use them as a reference.

WHN STAFF TIP: Home Inventory

Photos from others not readily available? Print out our WHN home inventory lists to help jog your memory.

WHN STAFF TIP: Photo Support

Done any building or remodeling in your home? Contact the architects and remodeling companies you used for past pictures and blueprints of your home. Ask for any other documents that might help support your claim.

Your Things
  1. Remove any undamaged items to a safe area of the house or where you are staying. If large objects, like a sofa, are salvageable, cover them with a tarp.
  2. If possible, do not throw away any damaged goods until after an inventory is made. All damages are taken into consideration in developing your insurance claim.

    WHN EXPERT TIP: Items for Discarding

    Once you and your insurance agent have determined which damaged items you are throwing away, pick out a place for piling these discards. Make it easily accessible for removal by truck or consider renting a portable trash container. Do not throw away anything until you have filed a claim or spoken with your insurance company.

    WHN TIP: Make a Wedding Registry!

    My parents had a house fire that was such a complete loss - there was very little remaining from which to compile an inventory of contents. To help jog their memories, they went to Target and created a wedding registry, then they walked through the store and scanned the items they lost in the fire.

    Granted, the items they lost weren’t exactly the same, but it gave them a printed list of like items to use to create their property claim. We all got a good chuckle about my 45-year-married parents having a “new wedding date”. - Jill A., MN

  3. Start to think of cleaning that you will do or what you'd like a professionals to handle.

Securing Your Property

  1. Reasonable expenses spent to protect property are part of the loss and generally reimbursed by insurance companies. Check with your agent to learn where your insurance money is coming from and how using money now affects money you may need later.
  2. Arrange to have doors, windows and other areas secured against unauthorized entry. This also helps prevent further damage.
  3. While examining your home for structural and general damage, take notes. Use sidewalk chalk or wax pencils to mark areas of damage such as dents in aluminum trims, damaged shingles, dented doors, etc.
  4. Read Hiring a Contractor and Hiring Damage Restorers to get tips on what to look for when hiring a professional and questions to ask.