This weekend I went back country camping with a close friend in Northern California, witnessing the residual smoky haze of the fires firsthand as we snaked along Interstate 80 in poor visibility en route to the Western Sierras.
My thoughts at the time were with EJ at Dads, Dollars and Debts, who lives in the area. A week earlier, I reached out via email after he posted about his mandatory evacuation. On my return to civilization, EJ had written about the devastating loss of his home in the Tubbs Fire.
A weird thing happened next. A group of bloggers in the FI/RE community, led by Liz at ChiefMomOfficer decided to come together after EJ’s experience by posting a chain of emergency preparedness links in light of this year’s disaster-fest. I’m grateful to Liz and the others who’ve posted on this chain in hopes of making us all a little safer.
The reason I’d reached out to EJ a week earlier is because I wanted to make sure he looked for a rental - one of the important lessons we'd learned when we lost our family home in 1990. Turns out EJ is a master logistician and had already found an apartment.
It's with the hindsight of experience and the incomplete perspective of being a teen at the time that I offer my link in the chain: what to do after pulling a few salvageable heirlooms from ash to move on with your life.
Secure A Place To Live
The day after finding out your house had been destroyed, most people are numb, coming to terms with the loss. My siblings and I did just that, replaying events in our head with our mom.
My dad, ever practical, immediately set out to find us a rental home. Tight housing markets go berserk after an event that displaces a large number of people. Go out and deposit a down payment on the first rental that will accept you - the longer you take, the lower the odds of finding something in town. Worst case scenario, you'll find something better later and lose your deposit. Many friends' families had to move to the town next door.
The company we rented from illegally increased rent the day after accepting our offer; my dad took it in stride and paid the inflated rent. He later took the company to court and won damages.
Do what needs to be done to get your family a place to live as soon as possible. Sort out the details later.
Take A Physical Inventory
In our case, my dad had fortuitously recorded a room by room VHS tape of our home one year earlier and parked it in a safety deposit box at the bank, which the insurance company used as a basis for reimbursing us maximum coverage under our policy. I’d love to say dad was a visionary, but in reality he was excited about his new video camera and could not get any of us kids to perform on cue, so the recording was undertaken mostly for him to get used to the features. Dumb luck saves you more often than it's comfortable to acknowledge.
An aunt and uncle recently lost their home in a fire and did not have this type of video to rely on. My wife and I looked through photo albums and sent digital copies of all photos we’d taken in their home that showed items in the background to jog their memory. Since we’d visited frequently, we also composed and sent them a written inventory of the guest rooms we’d stayed in. They really appreciated this, since they spent little time in those guest rooms and did not recall their furnishings.
Sit down and go room by room in your head with pad and paper. Write down every detail, no matter how small. The stuff you think won’t matter can turn out to be a big win. Case in point: a ruptured pipe last year flooded our downstairs, in the process ruining about 75 old New Yorker magazines. It turns out they are considered collectibles - and the insurance company reimbursed us several thousand dollars for their loss.
Take A Spiritual Inventory
I was a teen at the time we lost our house, and while I suspect the loss of all our material possessions inoculated me against peer pressure and led to my being more comfortable in my dirtbag skin at a young age, it was part of a continuum of habits my folks had instilled for our family mantra: Disregard what other people think. My first car was a station wagon with bumper sticker that read, “I’m the mommy, that’s why!” It was boot camp for getting comfortable with not caring what others thought.
While EJ’s toddler son may not process everything that has happened immediately, he will internalize mom and dad’s response over time. My youngest sister was 4 when the fire struck, and my folks had a lot of impromptu chats with us about what was important. Those talks mattered, and became part of our family lore over time. Once outward possessions are stripped away, there is just you; you need to make sure you’re happy with what’s left behind.
Deal With The Checklist of Aggravations
As I sat here composing this, EJ posted an amazing checklist of logistical aggravations involved in rebuilding your life after a fire that needs no expansion.
Reader Homework: Back It Up!
From a disaster preparedness perspective, technology has made advance documentation easier. My wife and I now back up everything from our phones to the cloud, both via google and dropbox because we take comfort in the redundancy.
Before bed tonight, if you have not already done so, take a video on your phone of each room in your home, opening closets and drawers, narrating any items of value including approximate value, and back it up on the cloud. Take photos of passports, birth or marriage certificates, and other important legal documents whose loss could be a headache and back them up on the cloud.
Please check out the other links in this chain:
Anchor: DadsDollarsDebt - Tubb’s Fire - A Sudden Evacuation
Anchor Two: Chief Mom Officer - A Harrowing Escape Inspires The Personal Finance Community - Beyond The Emergency Fund
Link 1: OthalaFehu - Cool As A Cucumber
Link 2: The Retirement Manifesto - Am I A Prepper?
Link 3: Mrs. Retire to Roots - In Case Of Emergency Follow The Plan
Link 4: The Lady In Black - Emergency Preparedness
Link 5: The Green Swan - Preparing For The Worst
Link 6: Minafi - Minimal Hurricane Preparation
Link 7: A Gai Shan Life - Earthquake and disaster preparedness
Link 8: The Financial Journeyman - Emergency Preparation: Be Proactive
Link 9; John And Jane Doe - Thinking the Worst: Emergency Planning or Fighting the Last War?
Link 10: Adventure Rich - Emergency Preparation Up North
Link 11: Money Beagle - How Much Would You Replace If You Lost Everything?
Link 12: Crispy Doc - Fighting Fire With FI/RE
Link 13: She Picks Up Pennies - How Can A Planner Be Unprepared?
Link 14: Chronicles Of A Father-Getting Ready for a Natural Disaster
Link 15: Rogue Dad MD- Disrupting the Equilibrium
Link 16: Unique Gifter-10 Ways To Help Disaster Victims
Link 17: SomeRandomGuyOnline-Friday Blog Roundup – Emergency Preparedness Edition
Link 18: 99 to 1 Percent: 15 Frugal Ways To Prepare For An Emergency
Link 19: I Dream Of FIRE - Your house is burning and you can only save 10 things – what do you choose?
Link 20: Full Time Finance - Emergency Preparedness in Place
Link 21: Thinking of Someday - Are You Prepared For When An Emergency Occurs?
Link 22: My Money Wizard - Are You Mentally (and Financially) Prepared to Lose Everything?
Link 23: Wealth Rehab - Start Building Your Emergency Fund Today