As I read about the Cameron Peak fire currently razing in Colorado, I cannot help but remember the time fire gutted my house.
I felt as devastated as the house – or what remained of it; burnt wood and ember. Last I heard, at least, 33 homes were burned.
I felt vulnerable knowing I have lost a large amount of my personal property including necessities like clothing, medicine, food, and implements for cooking and eating. I lost many valuable items. When night came, it hit me the hardest, knowing I have no roof over my head, no place to sleep, and no house to call my home.
I felt helpless and hopeless.
In the days that followed, I started to rebuild and get back on my own two feet again. One important lesson I’ve learned is that if there is one important thing to do after a fire, it’s not to raise your house.
First, have all your important documents replaced.
Might I add: my first realization is this – good thinking to those who had the foresight to secure their legal documents in a safe or in fire resistant briefcase style bags. I’ll make sure to follow this due diligence in the future.
I didn’t know it at first, but when I called the bank to check for any type of assistance I can avail of, they asked for my banking documents. Of course, the bank offered to help me obtain bank documents and credentials I lost in the fire (but there is a process I have to undergo), but what struck me is the feeling that I am no one; I don’t exist. I am a citizen of no land. All because I don’t have any personal document to prove who I am and establish my identity.
Personal Documents are a Priority
My advice for people who experienced this same predicament is to prioritize having your legal documents replaced immediately. You will need these documents as you are rebuilding your life. Make a list of all the documents lost and make sure these are replaced ASAP.
Here’s a quick list of personal legal documents that you may need to replace after the fire:
- Living and last wills
- Insurance policies
- Mortgage documents
- Passport and travel documents
- Banking documents
- Business documents
- Birth certificate (yours, your children, and your spouse’s)
- Marriage certificate
- Academic records
- Social security card
- Foster or adoption legal papers
- Property records
- Tax documents
- Medical records
- Financial records of payments made
The Good News
There are two actually: the first and most important good news comes immediately when you are sure no one is hurt. Everything is just material possession that can be replaced. If we lost sentimental items, we can always make new memories, as long as our loved ones are with us.
The other good news is this: requesting for replacement of destroyed documents can be done online. If you haven’t needed a replacement for a legal document, chances are you haven’t heard or tried this.
Google US vital records or visit this link to find out how you can get started with having your lost documents replaced. This site will help replace your lost ID cards, marriage certificate, divorce decree and certificate, birth certificate, death certificate, and adoption records, among others. Browse the website to see what else they can offer to help you in replacing your lost documents.
The Sad Truth
Some of the legal documents you need a copy of may not be available in this website. This means you have to process each one separately (i.e. for bank and banking-related documents like bank statements or a new passbook, etc., you have to visit the bank and ask for instructions regarding your request).
You can have your lost documents replaced. But this does not take away the fact that having these valuable documents replaced is an additional burden and cause of stress for you.
Losing a home to fire is a huge blow financially. Processing the replacement for lost documents requires fees too. And then there is also the stress of waiting in line, making follow-up calls or emails and the frustration caused by long waits and unexpected delays, and having to repeat personal information over and over again when people are calling to verify and check your real identity. I cannot tell you not to be frustrated because it is. But I will encourage you to soldier on and keep at it because these documents are essential. You need to have these documents with you as soon as possible.
That there is a more convenient option (online) so that it is easier for those affected by disasters and tragedies considering what they have been through, let us also be careful and make sure we access legitimate websites. Let us also tell this to others to raise awareness and keep them from being victimized by websites involved in illegal activities like identity theft and fraud.
Criminals involved in identity theft and like-minded scammers are preying on desperate and distracted individuals who recently experienced a disaster and in need of document replacement. They lure these people in with the promise of expediting the replacement of personal documents. What they are doing is mining your vital information, which they will use it in illegal activities. So please, beware! After a horrible experience like surviving a fire, the least you need is law enforcement questioning you for things you did not do after criminals have used your identity.
There is nothing in this world that can assure us a fire will not occur in the future. The best we can do is to follow safety steps to prevent the occurrence of another fire.
When it comes to securing legal documents you have at home, you should consider investing in a fire resistant briefcase style bag or any fire resistant storage bags because this is portable. You can bring it with you when a fire erupts.