In the blink of an eye, a peaceful sanctuary can turn into a raging inferno. Without taking preventative measures or recognising the warning signs, a devastating house fire has the power to instantly shatter lives, destroy belongings, and inflict lasting emotional scars.

The true impact of a house fire becomes hauntingly apparent once the flames are extinguished, and the scene is left smoky and cold. This is the moment when the harsh reality sinks in for everyone involved, including Kevin Curtis, a seasoned volunteer firefighter from Matamata.

Having witnessed the aftermath of countless house fires during his 48 years of volunteering, Kevin knows the depth of devastation all too well. For the past 35 years, he has also worked as an insurance assessor, 13 of those for FMG, providing further insight into the profound impact these incidents have on individuals.

"It starts off bright and glowing, then it gets really hot, and once it's been put out, it's smoky and cold," Kevin says.

"That's when the emotions hit that these people have lost their homes. The reality that they've just lost everything leaves them in shock, and we all feel it too."

The shock and disbelief on the faces of those affected deeply affect Kevin. When he arrives at the scene within 24 to 36 hours after the incident to begin the assessment, some individuals are left speechless. To ease their distress, Kevin engages them in conversation, gradually building their comfort and trust.

Gathering information while it is still fresh in their minds is crucial, as house fires can be triggered by various causes, ranging from faulty electrical systems and cooking mishaps to improper disposal of ashes. The aftermath of a house fire often inflicts overwhelming trauma on its victims, extending far beyond the immediate threats to life and property.

"There are a multitude of unexpected challenges to face after a house fire," says Matthew Watts, FMG Claims Technical Lead.

“Lives are turned upside down, there are so many aspects people had never considered and unfortunately we process an average of 17 total loss house fires each year.”

Suddenly, the victims find themselves grappling with the question of where to live, particularly since the rebuilding process can take anywhere from 18 to 24 months. And they have lost everything - furniture, personal belongings, and cherished sentimental items. There's also the matter of arranging temporary accommodation for themselves and their pets.  Often the cost of temporary accommodation is not fully insured. The array of stressors becomes overwhelming.

The costs associated with rebuilding have surged significantly since the onset of the pandemic and in one measure have increased 50% since pre-pandemic levels. Matthew explains that pre-COVID, rebuilding costs averaged around $2,500 to $3,000 per square meter. However, current rates can start at $4,500 per square meter. A big reason why it is important to regularly review insurance coverage is to ensure it adequately accounts for factors like demolition costs.

"The purpose of insurance is to help you get on your feet again, which is only possible if you have sufficient coverage," says Matthew.

Regularly reviewing and assessing the adequacy of insurance policies is vital for individuals. By taking proactive steps to protect themselves, they can minimize potential losses to material possessions and ensure their well-being in the event of a worst-case scenario. Additionally, small actions such as watching the cooking, checking appliances, and following general fire prevention advice can safeguard their house and everything that makes it a home, preventing significant losses.

For more advice on how to prevent the loss of your home to a house fire here.