What to Expect from the Fire Cleanup Process
Learn how the pros deal with smoke damage and what happens during each step of the fire restoration process – from inspection to completion.
Whether you've experienced a few contained flames in the kitchen or a full-scale house fire, it's always best to turn to the pros for help. No matter how little or large the extent of the smoke damage and destruction, a fire damage restoration vendor is professionally trained and equipped to handle fire cleanup and make sure your home is safe to return to and live in again. While most of the steps in the cleanup process will (and should) be performed by the professionals, there are actions you can take before the experts arrive and the fire mitigation process officially begins.
How a Home is Restored After Fire Damage
A fire—and the smoke that’s produced—impacts certain parts of a house differently, and therefore each area may require a different method of sanitizing, restoring or rebuilding. You may not be able to see the extent of the fire damage because often it has occurred in areas that aren’t visible, such as behind walls and in the attic or it has affected the structural, electrical or plumbing systems. Even walls or surfaces that aren’t in the same room where the fire originated can be damaged.
Surfaces with smoke damage and soot require special cleaning agents, as common household cleaning products can be ineffective or may even cause additional damage. If water damage occurs—from extinguishing the flames or if the sprinkler system goes off during the fire—then there is a potential for mold growth, which will also need to be addressed in addition to fire and smoke damage. A trained fire restoration professional will be able to assess the degree of the fire damage and determine the areas and contents of a home that can be cleaned and restored and which ones need to be completely replaced.
COMMONLY USED EQUIPMENT
A significant part of fire cleanup focuses on purifying contaminated air and neutralizing odors caused by smoke. Most fire damage restoration services will use some of these pieces of equipment to help clean and sanitize the air and make a home safe to breathe in again.
- HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) vacuum – A high-powered vacuum with filters that trap airborne particles like soot. It can be used on surfaces including ceilings, walls and floors.
- Air scrubber – This machine helps eliminate odors and clean the air by using a filtration system to suck air in and filter it before releasing it back into the house.
- Negative air fan – Removes contaminated air that’s inside a home through ducts, creating negative air pressure (a vacuum effect).
- Ozone machine – Neutralizes odors and should only be used after a house is cleaned, emptied of all contents and vacated. The machine is typically used for a couple of days and the home must be ventilated for an additional 24 hours before reentry.
Steps Performed by a Professional Fire Restoration Company
While there are certain steps only a fire damage restoration service should perform, there are ways you can help throughout each phase of the process, too. Get advice and instructions from the company you hire to make sure you complete any tasks that will help make the fire cleanup run more smoothly, and avoid doing anything that will hinder progress.
- One of the first steps in the fire mitigation process is determining the cause of the fire, as well as the extent of the smoke damage, and then documenting it through photos to provide to the homeowner’s insurance company.
- All rooms are tested for soot or smoke damage. Test cleanings (which utilize a special dry cleaning chemical sponge) will determine what surfaces are affected and the degree of damage.
- The fire restoration company should then explain the cleaning process to the homeowners, as well as what the demo/rebuild phase may consist of (if applicable) and begin to decide what items are salvageable after a thorough inventory has been completed.
PREVENTION OF FURTHER DAMAGE
- A fire cleanup vendor will remove any contents from the home as quickly as possible to avoid further damage because the longer they are in the affected area, the more difficult they’ll be to clean.
- Before fire damage restoration services arrive, homeowners can set coffee grounds out throughout the house to help with minimizing the smell, as they absorb odors.
- Turn off HVAC systems until the home is inspected by a professional to avoid additional contamination to unaffected areas. Some fire cleanup companies may recommend having vents, ducts and furnaces cleaned/serviced to prevent soot from circulating throughout the home.
REMOVAL OF ITEMS DAMAGED BY FIRE/SMOKE
- Homeowners should be actively involved during the inventory process and notify the fire restoration company of important/sentimental items, or items they may need returned to them quickly if they are in temporary housing.
- Contents are photographed, inventoried and packaged, and then taken offsite to the fire restoration company’s cleaning facility where they’re stored during the repairs.
- Since the fire cleanup process can vary depending on the company and the individual homeowner’s situation, it’s common for fire- or smoke-damaged items to be inventoried and later determined as salvageable or non-salvageable.
CONTAINMENT, REPAIRS AND COMPLETION
- Containment – This step is recommended to help restrict odors from contaminating the air throughout the house and keep the damage contained at the source of the fire and affected areas of the home.
- Repairs – If the fire restoration company isn’t able to complete some of the necessary construction, the homeowner should find a general contractor to do the work once the fire damage restoration service has completed their part of the repairs. Once pricing, scheduling and other specifics of the rebuild have been agreed on, then the contractor can start rebuilding and get the homeowners back into their home as quickly as possible.
- Completion – The homeowner and fire restoration company should be in agreement that the home is clean and the smell of smoke is no longer present. If there’s a discrepancy, both parties may order an air sample test after the fire cleanup is completed and prior to beginning any construction.
The information and advice contained in this article is intended as a general guide for informational purposes only. It does not take into account your personal situation. While we at Resolve have significant experience and history operating in the home restoration industry and working closely with construction contractors, we are not licensed as a general or specialty contractor. We encourage you to consider the information we’ve provided but urge you not to rely upon it in place of appropriate professional advice from a licensed, experienced construction contractor.