A personal message from Ken Klein, 2003 Cedar Fire survivor and United Policyholders Mentor/Volunteer:
Here are some random thoughts from one survivor of the Cedar Fire. This is not a list of comprehensive practical information of dealing with insurance and builders and the government, but more “Week One” kind of stuff.
This is a very disorienting experience you have been through. Your home is more anchoring to you, especially emotionally, than you might think. Give yourself and those around you the blessing of lowered expectations for the next several days.
Start by getting a pad of paper and a pen. Make “to do” lists as thoughts occur to you. Try each
day to achieve at least one thing. More generally, write down everything. It is very hard to keep track of stuff.
Gather contact information (both cell phones and emails, in particular). Keep this on one of your lists.
Confirm with the post office that they have stopped your mail delivery and that you know where they are holding your mail.
Call your mortgage company and let them know what has happened. You will still owe your monthly payment, and it is not covered by insurance (your temporary living charges are), but your lender may give you a short deferral.
Keep EVERY receipt, whether gasoline or snack food or anything. Much or all of it may be covered by insurance.
Contact your insurance company. They probably will give you initial temporary funds quickly.
Whether you think you need financial support or not, register with FEMA and get a “FEMA
number,” and if possible, something that looks like a FEMA card containing that number. Local businesses sometimes want to see this documentation in order to give you applicable discounts.
Accept the Red Cross money. If you later decide you do not need it, the Red Cross gladly will take a donation in the same amount back from you.
In the next several days, folks are going to ask you if they can do anything. Always say yes. If you cannot think of anything else, tell them to bring food.
It is an act of charity by you to let people help you and bring you things. They need to do something, and you are doing them a favor by letting them. It brings no shame on you.
This process will take time, probably at least two years. But one day you again will have the simple joy of having something need repair in your own house, and you having the joy of having to pay for the repair yourself.
When you start shopping to replace the things you need, take someone with you who did not lose their home, because it quickly becomes overwhelming. Also, take along a note pad because seeing things in stores will jog your memory of things you used to have and what they cost.
Do not let this define you. It is not who you are. It is just where you are right now.
October, 2007, San Diego, California