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Getting Back to Normal Faster: Before and After A California Wildfire Evacuation

August 31, 2009

With dark gray and pink smoke blankets hovering over many areas in Southern California today, many people are facing rapid evacuation in areas that have not burned in over sixty years.  Some have had warning, and spent a sleepless night hurriedly packing their most important belongings and necessities into suitcases and cars, and watching the glowing skies in preparation for the Fire Department and Police giving them word to evacuate.

We hope at a time like this, that everyone has taken safety precautions for their property, including good homeowners’ insurance coverage and an up to date photographic home inventory.  If not, and only where safe, in areas that have not been evacuated yet but are threatened, we suggest taking two minutes to photograph your home before you leave.

Steps to Photograph your Home In an Emergency:

  • Start in the rooms where you have the most expensive belongings, like your living room. Stand all the way against one wall and photograph the opposite wall. Repeat from every wall, taking a photograph of every wall.
  • Shoot kitchen, bedrooms, laundry room. Capture your closets, both storage and clothing, so that you can remember what you own.  If your home is damaged, you will not be in a state of mind to try to remember what you have-these photographs will be invaluable to you in an insurance claim.
  • If you own a valuable collection of china, silverware, art, or wine, this is a good time to photograph that as well.
  • If you have time and it’s safe, shoot pictures of the actual structure of your home, including all exterior walls, landscaping, garages, and carports.
  • Anything that can be considered an architectural feature of your home, like large pillars or a stone stairway should be photograhped as well, to show the quality of home you have.
  • Shoot close up shots of anything over $500. TV, furniture, electronics, jewelry, antiques, cars, appliances.
  • Photograph valuables that you are packing to take with you, as time allows, in case items are damaged as you are evacuating.

Keep your camera and battery charger with you as you prepare to leave. You will want to be able to print pictures as needed for an insurance claim.  It goes without saying that human and animal lives should come before your belongings in these situations. These steps should be taken only if you have time and are not being called to evacuate. Those being called to evacuate need to leave immediately.

Here is a link to an excellent list of what you should bring with you in case you are being evacuated.

By taking these steps,  you protect your investments and your family can return to normal faster after a natural disaster or wildfire. A good photographic home inventory, combined with proper homeowners’ insurance coverage can save you considerable heartache in the event of a disaster.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Bob Watson permalink
    August 31, 2009 12:07 pm

    These are some great tips, not only for the wildfires which we are experiencing now, but also for earthquakes, floods (floods in SoCal-maybe…tsunami!) and any other erason to quickly vacate your dwelling. I have sent out to all of my agents! Thanks Laurie.

    • August 31, 2009 12:12 pm

      Thanks, Bob.

      Michelle Minch from Moving Mountains Design (@homestagingpro) also suggests using a Flip Video cam and doing a rapid run through of the home as well. Anything you can do to record what you own before safely vacating will only make getting back to normal easier after the disaster.

      Thanks for sending this along to your agents.

  2. michelleminch permalink
    August 31, 2009 12:26 pm

    You created a great list Laurie. Something we should all do. The best time is when you are not under duress from an iminent threat like the current wildfires.

    While the ideal situation would be to create a complete inventory of the contents of your home, as well as an upgrades you had added, sometimes that is not possible under threat of evacuation. If you can dash through each room with a Flip video or even your cell phone in video mode, you can create a record of your possessions and your home that can be used for creating an inventory later. In addition, you can use the info captured on the video to negotiate with your insurance company when it comes time to rebuild. You have proof of the beams in the living room, the marble counters in the master bath or the built in shelving in the family room.

    I’ve decided its time for me to create a video inventory, even though my home is not in any danger from the fires (after I clean off my desk:o)) Its small consolation if you lose your home, but I know I will be grateful if I ever need it. I’m also going to photograph our new copper plumbing under the house as well as the tankless waterheater we recently installed.

    • August 31, 2009 12:30 pm


      Thanks for your great ideas. I agree completely, a full photographic inventory is a very valuable thing for any homeowner to have, especially after upgrades and remodels. Good thought about the copper pipes and tankless upgrades- your homeowners’ insurance agent will surely applaud the images. Should a house burn down with any invoices and receipts from your upgrades, you often can’t prove you did them, and will not be compensated for the work you have done.

      Kudos for doing your inventory! Let me know how it goes. I love to hear… and good luck with that desk 😉

  3. August 31, 2009 2:03 pm

    GREAT tips, Laurie. When we were on evactuation notice a few years back we went through every room with the video camera and zoomed in on the large ticket items for makes and models. Hadn’t though about the closets and clothing though, having to replace everyday items can be extremely expensive for an entire family.

  4. September 1, 2009 10:50 pm

    What wonderful ideas.

    I often photograph the most important things in our house, so have hundreds of photos of Carol, Baby T (short for Baby Terrorist) and Poudini (aka Dini Bini, the escape artist).

    I’ve put a note on the calendar to also photograph THINGS in our house. All pretty much replaceable except for the photos and video, and I’ve multiple, rendundant backup drives all over the place for those.


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