Every Summer Australia loses houses to Bushfires. Mother of four Helen Nicholson’s house burned down in June, so she penned this how-to for families affected by bushfire. I thought it was a brilliant article so I am posting here as a resource for people.
(This is not the Nicholson’s House)
Hi all, our house burnt down in June, so I’m hoping the following helps everyone involved and wishing to help at the moment. It’s going to be long, sorry, as there’s a lot I wish I knew back then It’s in no particular order – please read only the bits you need. Please share with anyone affected
Please know that we appreciate your efforts, even when you couldn’t save much or anything of our stuff. It’s stuff. So far in the Mountains, you’ve kept every single one of us alive. You all rock. Thank you.
IF YOUR FRIENDS/FAMILY HAVE LOST THEIR HOMES/PARTS OF THEIR HOMES:
1. Don’t say, “Let me know what I can do…” – go to them and say, “I’m here to help, give me something to do.”
We know you mean well, but we aren’t exactly thinking clearly or know what to do next – if you get met with a blank stare or babble, look around and say, “How about I help with this?” Your loved one will feel a little bit more in control and grateful someone is thinking better than they are. Please remember that we might get so many texts a day we can’t possibly reply to all – please be the kind of person that rocks up.
2. What to bring when you rock up:
a) toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, sanitary pads, nappies, solvol heavy duty soap, shampoo, etc. Nivea pure & natural hand cream worked best for us and we went through more bottles of Morning Fresh Power Soak (green bottle dishwashing liquid) and Febreze than we bothered to count.
b) lunch or dinner. Don’t assume you’re a bad cook. If your family has survived your cooking all these years, chances are you cook our kids’ favourite meals, too. I remember one day hoovering down sandwiches a lady brought like they were the most brilliant sandwiches I’d ever eaten and later learning she’d been worried they wouldn’t be good enough. Trust me, people – they’re GREAT! Just please remember to check for food allergies. Our two-year-old’s epipen burnt in our fire and he had to eat bananas for the next 20 hours until we could track down another. **Please remember to come and pick up your bowls/etc – we’ll have no idea who gave us what and it feels bad when you can’t return it or something goes missing!
c) if your friends only escaped with the clothes on their backs, by all means give them fresh clothes, but don’t forget to take their stinky clothes and wash them. There’s nothing as sanity-saving as getting back in your own clothes! Use warm water, double napisan/laundry soaker and double concentrated fabric conditioner to get the smoke smell out. Sometimes you’ll need to do this twice. Febreze anything you can’t wash or needs that little bit extra.
3. Make sure your loved ones have all their medications.
Offer to go pick up script refills. They won’t necessarily remember important stuff like that. Our house burnt down 2 days before an important sports competition – check if they need anything urgent for events like that. Help HSCers get misadventure forms sorted. Ring employers and arrange leave. A family will likely need one parent home for the next month, as there’s so much to sort out.
4. They’re going to need help for months and months yet. This will be harder as time goes on and life gets busy again. When you pop round to temporary accommodation for a chat/coffee, help while you’re doing it. We’re still scrubbing soot off stuff and there’s always a mountain of washing that stops you having the time to scrub the soot. Just tell us to stop being silly if we say we don’t need help and get in there and help anyway. We’ll love you all the more, even though we’ll worry we’ll never be able to repay you and don’t know how to thank you enough.
5. If you live too far away to help in person, send gift cards. The ones we found most helpful were for Officeworks, KMart/Coles, Big W/Woollies. Don’t assume insurance will cover everything – even posting a block of chocolate will lift spirits more than you can imagine!
IF YOUR HOUSE/STUFF/COMBINATION OF BOTH IS GONE:
1. It’s going to get better.
There’ll be days when you really miss your stuff. That’s okay. It was your stuff and you wouldn’t have had it if you didn’t like it. But in time, you’ll find yourself actually enjoying new stuff. And you’ll have made so many new friends that you’ll have moments where you’ll feel weird for thinking this has turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to you. Or at least not as bad as you first thought
2. You’re going to have moments where you’re so stressed you’re going to worry if it’s going to kill you.
Research says this is only the case if you think of stress as bad. So accept help, even though we Mountains people are proud. Having people around helps you cope with the stress.
3. If you have anything at all left, don’t throw it out til you’ve tried to clean it. Because even if you’re insured to the hilt, it won’t cover everything. And it’s nice to have something familiar, no matter how little it resembles its former glory. Self Storage in Penrith, I think, is offering 1st month free. Shove stuff in bags/boxes and store it. Get out a box/bag at a time and try my cleaning suggestions below before dumping. ** Understand there’s a massive difference between what your insurer writes off and what you can, with willpower, salvage (see cleaning hints below).
4. Call your insurer and take them up on things like temporary accommodation and trauma counselling.
We found Astina Apartments in Penrith brilliant, but anywhere with a fridge, dishwasher, washing machine, dryer and running hot water will be great.
5. If you have kids:
a) get them back to school ASAP. It really helps everyone – they and their friends can see each other are okay, they can talk, and you can clean up without them in the way.
b) explain to them what’s going on. They’ll have worries you don’t expect. E.g. we had a bathroom spared but our boys were too scared to go in when we visited as they thought the roof would collapse. Sometimes they don’t have the words to express their fears. That’s where we found the psychologist so great – I don’t know how, but they find out what kids are worried about so you can then help.
c) expect nightmares and tantrums. Give them night lights, even if they don’t ask.
d) ask them what they’d like that would make them feel a bit ‘back to normal’. For our 13-year-old, it was her hair straightener. For our 10 and 6-year-olds, it was their Wii. Our now 3-year-old has done best with Lego fire stuff. He spends hours playing how the house was burning and the trucks came to put it out. Now he plays helicopters flying over (they’re backburning near us). The psychologist says this is great – just keep reminding them how great it is that the firies are our friends and how we’re going to get the house built again and you’ll have a nice new bed and how safe we all are because the firies are all so clever with their fire trucks and helicopters. Just teach one of your older kids to fix the lego fire stuff so you’ve got hands free to keep scrubbing
a) you’re going to need Nivea Pure & Natural hand cream or something similar that’s heavy duty and non-greasy. Gloves are well and good, but you’ll still need hand cream.
b) clothes/linen/soft toys: wash in warm water with double-dose napisan/laundry soaker and double-dose concentrated fabric softener. Repeat if necessary. If you’ve got the soot out, but it still smells, spray with Febreze.
c) furnishings you can’t wash: rub/blot with a wet microfiber cloth, preferably with a bit of Morning Fresh Power Soaker on it to get as much of the soot off as you can. Dry with an old cloth nappy or similar. Spray with Febreze.
d) plastics: wash with Morning Fresh Power Soaker and an old toothbrush or similar, depending on size, then run through dishwasher, then vigorously dry with an old teatowel/cloth nappy/etc. Then wonder how on earth you missed all the black that’s still on it
e) wood (chopping boards/chairs/table/etc): scrub with microfiber cloth wet with dishwashing water. Dry with cloth nappy/etc. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
f) walls, etc: we’d just finished painting, installing wardrobes, etc, when our place burnt. Sadly, you’re really best to start again on these, using something like Zinsser B-I-N Stain Blocker to stop the black bleeding through again.
7. Restocking: Every household is different, but with 4 kids, we found the following most helpful:
Kitchen: kettle, toaster, can opener, microwave, slow cooker
Laundry: washing machine, dryer
Bathroom: everyone’s favourite toiletries went down a treat
Electronics: e.g. my husband’s electric razor was spared, but not the charger. The Shaver Shop in Penrith ordered a new one in. Likewise, my laptop was written off by the insurer, as its’ cover was a bit melted and the cord fried, but it still works. Hubby got me a new cord on ebay and we’re back in business.
I think that covers most things, except for my last piece of advice:
IF IN DOUBT, GET OUT It’s much more fun buying new stuff than paying for a funeral.
Please help our firies keep the Mountains fatality-free!
Good luck xoxo.