Most people find that experiencing a house or property fire is extremely stressful and frightening. Serious fires are unpredictable, dangerous, and sometimes impossible to control.
The amount of physical damage will vary, from minimal harm done to the total loss of a home or property. In some rare circumstances, several homes and properties in the same community can be lost. More importantly, fire can also cause people serious physical injuries or even fatalities. A serious fire has far reaching consequences for all those affected.
A house fire can mean not only the loss of a home but of other things of value to you and those you live with, such as precious objects, photo albums, important documents, clothing, electrical equipment, digital devices, books, personal gear, and children’s toys. Your home would normally feel secure, safe, comforting, and part of your familiar daily routine. Suddenly losing these things is very hard. A lot of change can happen very fast.
FENZ (Fire and Emergency New Zealand) assist us in fire and hazardous substance emergencies in both urban and rural locations.
If someone you love has died in a fire
Please see our sudden death support information here.
Report the fire and keep safe
If you see smoke or fire and believe there's a risk to people or property, immediately call 111 and ask for 'Fire'. Give your:
- House number, street name, suburb, town or city
- Or Rural Address Property Identification (RAPID) number if you have one
- Nearest intersection
Keep yourself and others safe.
Never go near an active fire area. (See below for Going back into your property)
One of Fire and Emergency’s (FENZ’s) fire investigators may attend to investigate the origin or cause of the fire. The investigator may need to restrict people’s access to the site so that they can preserve or record evidence about the fire.
Before entering your home or property, they will ask your consent and explain what they will be doing, and how. However, if required, the fire investigator can apply for a warrant to enter your home and property without your consent. To find out more about the powers of entry and inspection that FENZ has please see the Inspector powers factsheet.
Your insurance company may also send an investigator to the site. You can talk to your insurer about what this involves.
If it was arson
If it is suspected or confirmed that the fire was started deliberately, which is the crime of arson, police will also become involved. See our arson and criminal property damage support section here.
An emergency services official will check the water, electricity, and gas supplies. They will then either arrange to have them disconnected or let you know what to do next.
Going back into your property
Do not enter your fire damaged house or property unless an emergency services official has given you permission to – however tempted you are to do it. Healthy and safety must come first. Fire damage can cause dangerous hazards. There can be, for example, carcinogenic ash and toxic gases that are unsafe to inhale, or electrical wiring or gas outlets that need professional checking or disconnecting.
If an investigation is underway and you need to access your home or property to get valued belongings, you can make a request to FENZ to be allowed to do this. You can phone them on 04 496 3600 or apply online.
When you're allowed back into the property, try to find your:
- Personal Identification cards/papers
- Insurance information
- Medication, health information, health equipment
- Eye glasses
- Hearing aid
- Wallet and valuables
If you can't return to your home or property
If you can't return you’ll need to organise some accommodation. You might need to stay with family, whānau, friends, or in a local motel for a night or two. It may be for longer if there has been serious damage to your home.
If the house can no longer be lived in, board up openings to discourage trespassers. Your fire and emergency contact can advise you about this and other ways to secure your property from trespassers.
Who to tell
Let key people or businesses know what’s happened because they might be able to offer guidance, help and support:
- your insurance company, if you are insured – follow their guidance and make an insurance claim as soon as possible
- family, whānau, friends
- your bank or mortgage company
- your child's school – so your child gets their support.
Also contact any agency or business providing services to your property, such as:
- Post office
- Electricity supplier
- Gas supplier
- Phone and Internet provider
- your local council, who will guide you through any local procedures and services.
They'll each explain what the next steps need to be.
If you're a tenant in a rental property
Contact your landlord as soon as possible. If you're a Kāinga Ora tenant (formerly Housing New Zealand) contact your tenancy manager or call Housing New Zealand on 0800 801 601.
If you're insured contact your insurance company, agent, or broker as soon as possible. They will explain what you will need to do next, such as making a list of damaged items or how to make your house secure. Don't remove any items or arrange any repairs until you've talked to them. Don't throw away any damaged items in case they need to be assessed. Keep receipts for all the expenses resulting from the fire. For example, for accommodation or replacement clothes. These can be used in your insurance claim.
Remember, it's common for insurance companies to investigate fire claims. You can assist them by remembering and noting down as much as you can about any events leading up to your fire. This can help you to answer questions your insurer will probably ask.
If you don't have insurance
If you don't have insurance, it can take more time to get back on your feet. A lot will depend on how serious the damage has been. For help and support, see the next section.
Who to contact for extra help
You and your family and whānau may be able to overcome the challenges you’re facing on your own, but it can often help to use the assistance of others as well.
- Victim Support - call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected with a Support Worker
- Work and Income - 0800 559 009 or here
- Kāinga Ora tenant (formerly Housing New Zealand) - 0800 801 601 or see here
- Your local church or faith centre
- Your local Salvation Army housing services here (click on Get Help)
- Local support agencies. Use this directory to find support in your area for yourself and your family and whānau
- Rural Support Trust 0800 787 254 or here
See your doctor for any health concerns, especially if you are experiencing sleeplessness or high levels of anxiety. See your own GP or find one near you in this directory.
Need to talk?
- 1737 Call or text 24/7 for free support from a trained counsellor
- Victim Support 0800 842 846 to be connected with a Support Worker
- Lifeline 0800 543 354
- Call or text Youthline 0800 376 633, free txt 234 , or Webchat
- Rural Support Trust 0800 787 254
- To find a counsellor, see the Mental Health Foundation’s tips or see this Talking Works directory
- For other specialist helplines, go here
Managing media interest
See our helpful guidelines here.
Restoring your property after fire, water or smoke damage
See the FENZ information on steps you can take, depending on what has been damaged.
Make a plan to keep fire safe
In the aftermath of a fire, it is very important to know what to do to protect yourself and others from any possibility of a future fire. Many fire victims find themselves worrying there might be another fire. FENZ offers practical tips for keeping your home and property safe. Taking these actions can help increase confidence in your personal safety and security, and that of your family and whānau.
Give yourself time to recover after this traumatic experience
See below for some common reactions that people have after a serious fire and ideas for coping with them.
After a fire, the practical and emotional challenges of evacuating, relocating, restoring or rebuilding are huge. However, when there have been injuries or fatalities involved, of people and/or pets, the impact is far, far greater.
If someone you love has died in a fire
Please see our sudden death support information here.
Everyone’s different and will react in their own way
As the extent of the fire’s damage and its consequences start to become clearer, reactions will vary. Many find that the fire and its aftermath is traumatic and that their emotional reactions can be intense.
People will often first experience shock, numbness, and disbelief. So much can be happening that it’s hard to take it all in. Many say the experience left them feeling many different emotions, including helpless, overwhelmed, worried and anxious, frustrated and angry, sad and grieving. If injury or deaths have been avoided there is often deep relief and gratitude. However, if people or pets have been hurt or killed, there can be deep anguish and grief. See our ‘When you are grieving’ information sheet.
Many fire victims will grieve for what’s been lost or damaged, even small things that may not have seemed much to others. As we try to make sense of the fire, we find ourselves asking why questions, such as Why did this happen? Why did the fire start? We can have lots of ‘what-if’ questions going round and round in our minds. Some people may blame themselves or others for a perceived lack of fire prevention security. Or for a lack of response. The world around us can feel more unsafe and uncertain than it was before. Our future can suddenly look different.
You might also find it’s hard to concentrate on other things because you’re preoccupied with what happened. The fire may come into your mind often, uninvited. You may be more distracted and forgetful than normal. It might be harder to think clearly. You may feel more edgy and jumpy, fearing another fire.
Often fire victims find that certain sights, sounds, smells, sensations, or feelings remind them of the fire and their losses. Reminders could be, for example, a fire truck speeding by, a rural fire siren going off, coverage of a fire on the news, the smell of anything burning, photos of the house before the fire, or having conversations about what happened. Some people can find they have ongoing and distressing flashbacks to what happened. See our 'Dealing with flashbacks' information sheet.
Physical reactions often include having difficulty sleeping or having changes in appetite. Other common physical effects are being shaky, having a tight chest, racing heart, difficulty breathing, body aches, nausea, upset stomach, or headaches. Existing health conditions may get worse because of the stress.
These kinds of reactions are all normal after a traumatic experience
However, they might not feel normal and may affect you more, and for longer, than you expect. See tips below for coping with your reactions.
If children or young people have been affected by a fire
See our information sheet for parents and caregivers about Supporting your child or young person after a crime or traumatic event.
Recovering after any intense, traumatic event often takes longer than we expect. Our overall health and emotional wellbeing can be affected. Gradually the intensity of our reactions will lessen, and our sense of safety, security, and comfort can be regained. Life can move forward once again, but recovery will take time.
If anyone has died as a result of the fire
The loss of a loved one and the grief that follows is challenging. Please see our section on coping with a sudden death here.
Looking after yourself is important
In the middle of a crisis we can easily forget that taking care of ourselves is one of the best things we can do – both for ourselves and for others relying on us. Some helpful self-care tips to consider are:
Take it one day at a time. Keep up routines and get good rest and sleep, as best you can. Eat healthy food. Drink enough water. Do some simple exercise. Take some slow, deep breaths. Spend time with people you can relax with, or with a pet. Spend time in nature. If you find keeping busy helps, find useful tasks to do. See a doctor if you’re unwell, extremely anxious, or are having difficulty sleeping. Draw on any cultural or spiritual beliefs you may have. Accept caring offers from others if that would help. Remember what’s worked for you before in stressful times and do those things. Draw on your inner resilience. Encourage others who have been affected to look after themselves too.
Talk about what happened
When you’re ready, talk to those you trust about what happened. It could be to a trusted member of your family, whānau, friend, doctor, counsellor, respected elder, rangatira, or a Victim Support worker. If any aspects of your story are particularly disturbing, speak to a professional. Talking honestly about how things are can help you release some of the stress and emotional tension that’s built up inside.
After a very traumatic experience, a flashback feels like you’re back in the middle of what happened or reliving some aspect of it. This can be in vivid detail. During a flashback it can be difficult and confusing to connect back to the present and to what is real. To better understand flashbacks and ways to manage them, see our 'Dealing with Flashbacks' information sheet.
More tips for coping with your reactions
To understand more about trauma and grief, and to find some ways to cope with your reactions, please see:
If your reactions trouble you
- Visit your doctor. They can do a health check and support you with any ongoing issues, such as sleeplessness, anxiety, or depression.
- Consider talking with a counsellor or psychologist. They can help you work through your reactions and the consequences the crime has had.
- If you need to find a local doctor, counsellor, or psychologist, please click here.
If children or young people are affected by the fire
It’s common for children and young people to experience significant distress and on-going anxieties after a fire. Many remain worried and on alert in case another fire might happen. Some may be clingier and upset when they’re separated from parents or other family members. Some can be more moody, irritable, angrier, deeply sad, or completely overwhelmed at times. Our information sheet for parents and caregivers Supporting your child or young person after a crime or traumatic event offers helpful insights into what a child or young person may be experiencing, depending on their age and stage. It also offers ways you can give them good ongoing support.
Remember that parents and carers are a child or young person’s main source of security during this time of sudden change. Keep your focus on helping them to be safe and feel safe. Be there for them in the weeks and months to come as they emotionally react and adjust to the changes. Avoid talking to them about your own fears and worries and find an adult you trust to talk to instead.
We are here for you 24/7
Our Support Workers are available to support you personally, or as a family or whānau, for as long as you need us. You can call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected with a Support Worker.
Our support is completely free and confidential, and available throughout Aotearoa New Zealand.
What we can offer
Our Support Workers can support you with:
- someone to listen, talk with, and support you to cope through trauma and loss
- help to understand your rights and make informed choices
- information and help to answer your questions
- help to access local support services and counselling to suit your situation
- someone to assist and support you at court trials, hearings, and dealing with police and other government agencies (if it was arson)
- help to prepare Victim Impact Statements and attend family group or restorative justice conferences (if it was arson)
- financial assistance for victims of serious crime. (if it was arson)
We are committed to providing quality support to strengthen the mana and well-being of all those affected by fire.
If English is your second language
If you require support in your first language, Victim Support can use Ezispeak to connect with an interpreter over the phone. Call us on 0800 842 846 and let us know. We will try to match you to a Support Worker who speaks your language.
Other useful resources and websites
The FENZ (Fire and Emergency New Zealand) website offers information on how to keep your home fire safe. They provide checklists for reviewing fire safety, tips for making your own escape plan, and information on smoke alarms and other fire safety devices.
Rural fire safety
How to turn off power and gas - Powerco offers these safety tips. If you have trouble turning gas or electricity off, contact your utility service provider for help.