TFS Recovery Guide

We are sincerely sorry for your loss and want to help you return to a new normal ASAP. (Been THERE too.)  This was written for previous disasters, but the core of advise applies anywhere.

Survivors must avoid elective surgeries during the 2-3 months post fire.  Your gut and nervous system are compromised.  I know people that have died from simple surgeries.  Please take this warning seriously!

To begin your recovery, these are the basic steps to follow (and of course the devil is in the details!)

  1. Search for your animals and get a home.
  2. Re-establish your mailing address.
  3. Replace your documents and file for unemployment, if needed.
  4. Start the claim process for your home and car insurance .
  5. Close your utilities and re-assess your tax accounts.
  6. Get printer and computer with spreadsheet and word processing functions. (Renters may not need, but homeowners will!)
  7. Plan your first visit back to the burn site.
  8. Begin creating inventory of items lost.
  9. Start debris clean-up.
  10. Be thankful for your loved ones and friends (new and old). Your relations with others will become profoundly important during this transitional time in your life.
  11. Check out this extensive publication created by lawyers for you. Get me my MOFO lawyer! LoLo. =)



Pets are family. Many people want to help you find your family.

PLEASE drive carefully… people’s pets are still loose out there. Animals wild and domestic are darting into roadways and some have been hit.

Leave out food and a piece of clothing with your scent on it near your home. Then follow more instructions provided here.  (Sorry it is wordy.  Haven’t had time to scrub, but the wisdom is really good!)


There are no aid organization that will fix your immediate homeless situation longer than a few days, no matter how dire it is. I speak from personal experience. The sooner some of the most vulnerable realize this, the quicker they can adjust their expectations to match reality.

There MIGHT be few that get lucky. It would be a miracle and no one should be given false hope on a matter so serious. That said, I am providing you everything I know and am working to the best of my ability to help provide emergency housing.

Please visit the county website for Sonoma County (link 1 and link 2) which is updated regularly. And for Ventura and Santa Barbara, visit  If you were displaced DIRECTLY by the fire, please visit (Link to request or offer an RV.)

For guidance on RV User Agreements, Establishing a Temporary Dwelling Permit with Utilities and Top Tips for RV Care, visit this link for our RV Emergency Housing Guide.


  • All mail that would have been delivered at your home should be held at the post office for pick-up in your neighborhood. (This service will remain for several weeks. No specific end date known.)
  • If you are unable to retrieve your mail, you may request a Temporary Mail Hold or an Address Change. For more information and to contact USPS visit the USPS Service Alerts webpage.
  • Residents whose homes were destroyed/damaged MIGHT be offered a free PO box. Bring ID and proof of prior address to your local post office. (Click here for USPS locations.)
  • If you do not have an address, you may use general delivery (Write your name and “General Delivery, 95457”) Do not put forwarding address order to General Delivery (won’t work) (Not very reliable because policy is generally only a few day hold.)
  • Here’s a change of address form.



  • Notify your agent – Get entire insurance policy (all declarations, endorsements, and riders) Make a copy. Read it. Take meticulous notes on your copy of the original documents
  • Housing is a priority before doing anything else.   Talk to your insurance company about getting a housing expense allowance, aka ALE.  (I have something I’m working on to maximize this benefit if this project has a patron to support my effort.)
  • Get a binder and sheet protectors to organize the paper avalanche coming up so you can keep some peace of mind. I’d probably get one binder for insurance and one for the rest of your “stuff.”
  • I advise you to organize your binder by part A, B, C, D, E which correlate to the coverage areas of your homeowners policy.
  • Keep a diary of who you talked to, the number you called, date and time, what was said.
  • Follow up all conversations, with a letter confirming the conversation.  Do not confuse your topics.  Always write separate letters for part A loss of use, versus contents or structure.  It keeps your paper trail much cleaner.
  • Take photos of your property before any cleanup or debris removal.
  • Do not rush into signing contracts and avoid making major financial decisions in the first few weeks.
  • Check references carefully before hiring any vendor or professional.


  • Power: Stay away from any exposed, frayed wires until you are certain it is safe.
  • Water: Look for boil water notices posted in your neighborhood which is typical in the 3 weeks following a wildfire.
  • Please visit here for more information related to utilities.


Damage must exceed $10,000 to qualify for re-assessments.


  • Acquire a computer and printer and internet connection ASAP. You will needs software with spreadsheet and word processing functions. (Renters may not need a computer right away, but homeowners definitely will!) I’ve used because they have used and refurbished computers at great prices.


  • It is recommend bringing a spiritual guide or supportive loved ones with you. (You are about to have a major life experience.)
  • Bring protective gear and water.
  • Do not bring small children and pets!!


  • Items lost need to be itemized for insurance and tax purposes.  Some insurance companies will give you the maximum payout, ask your agent if this can be done without the trauma of reliving your loss for weeks thru countless spreadsheets and online searches.
  • United Policyholders is a great resource to guide you through the claim process. Follow this link for some VERY helpful tools to start creating your home inventory. They can also give you very helpful advice during the rest of your insurance claim process.
  • For tax purposes the following information has been provided to help you get started: Disaster Relief Tax Guide


  • Reminder: If you were evacuated from your home, but it was undamaged, you may have coverage for expenses related to the fire.
  • About Insurance: Public adjusters (Do not represent insurance companies. You pay them. Do not rush into ANY contract until you are certain you need them.) ~ ~ Private adjusters (Work for insurance co… You don’t pay them.) ~ ~ If you feel your claim isn’t being handled well, you can file complaint with Department of Insurance. For questions call 800-927-4357.
  • About Contractors: Beware of unlicensed contractors offering to remove debris and rebuild, especially those asking for advances. Contact the CSLB to check licenses and workers comp by following this link. This other link provides general guidance for working with contractors. For questions call 800-321-2752.
  • Price Gouging – Charging over 10 percent higher than those prices charged before the disaster results in a $10,000 fine per violation or jail time.  The law applies to those who sell food, emergency supplies, medical supplies, building materials and gasoline. Repair or reconstruction services, emergency cleanup services, transportation, freight and storage services, hotel accommodations and rental housing are also covered by the law. There are exceptions for businesses facing increased material or other costs. THE COUNTY IS VERY ACTIVELY PROSECUTING NOW.  For questions contact the District Attorneys Office and here is their FaceBook page where you might find updates. (I also have the ability to impact change here.  This issue causes serious widespread economic damage.)


  • Mortgage relief – You might qualify for help.  Read this.
  • Wind + Trees + Power Lines = Lethal Fire Storms. We have lost over ten thousand homes in California during the past 2 years because of this. The water shortage plays a big role in this environmental challenge. We have a responsibility as citizens to watch and report. Suing the power company doesn’t fix our problem. It will probably make the financial outcome worse.  In the end only the lawyers will win Please learn more here.


  • Be thankful for your loved ones and friends (new and old). Your relations with others will become profoundly important during this transitional time in your life.

~*~ Updated Jan 11, 2018 ~*~
No story is told if there is no lesson.
Be informed. Choose wisely.

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Together we can help each other with valuable advice that needs to be shared to protect our homes and our foundation to thrive.

This information is being re-purposed from our experience responding to the Valley Fire of 2015 and this is a living, changing document. We will update as time allows, but I think it is helpful to make this document available immediately, even if it still needs work. We invite you to offer your suggestions to improve this resource for other people.

Disclaimer: Everything related to RVs Without Borders and Tips From Survivors is being done by Good Samaritans. By using this site or its content or our ideas in any way, you agree to now and forever waive and release any claims whatsoever against the organizers, volunteers, and RV owners involved with this initiative, arising from any cause or event, or any action or non-action, real or imagined.

Lessons from those who lost their homes so you can protect your home, life savings & your loved ones.