Returning to your home after a wildfire evacuation

The Cold Springs fire is contained but 8 homes were destroyed and many others damaged by smoke and heat.

Many families are confronting the reality that they must recover and move on and wildfire season is not over.

We thought it might help to release some advice on re-entering a home that was evacuated and may have suffered damage from smoke and heat.

 

Returning to your home after a wildfire evacuation

 

 

Personal safety:

The extreme heat, smoke and flames of a wildfire can adversely impact the air quality in the area of the fire including your home. The home’s air quality may present health hazards that are not visible and do not present noticeable odors.
The local environmental agency and local environmental engineering firms or industrial hygienists will be able to help you determine if any health hazards exist in your home after a wildfire.
If any one in your family is sensitive to air quality, has immunity issue or respiratory illness be cautious and consult with health providers.
Watch for physical dangers including hot spots, broken windows. Keep alert for structural damage in your home and outbuildings.
Have the exterior of the house including the roof inspected for damage. Include all walkways, porches, patios etc.

 

When you re-enter a smoke damaged home after evacuation:

 

Use Caution: Watch for trip and fall hazards, and look out for any electrical wires that might be exposed.

LIMIT YOUR EXPOSURE: Be sure to wear gloves, a dust mask, and eye protection. Do not handle the debris.

The Structure of your home Have the entire structure inspected. Include the roof, exterior wiring, windows, sealant, paint, walkways, driveways etc. The extreme heat of a wildfire can cause damage that may not be visible.
The power supply lines, telephone lines and cable lines to the house may be compromised, have them inspected.

DISCARD DAMAGED FOOD & DRINKS: Throw away any opened goods and canned or packaged foods that were close to the fire or smoke. Any items that were possibly exposed to heat or smoke should be discarded.

EMPTY YOUR REFRIGERATOR & FREEZER:
If electricity is off, empty your freezer and refrigerator completely, and prop the doors open to prevent mold.

SHUT OFF VENTILATION SYSTEMS: Shut down your A/C or heating system, replace all the filters and have the system ductwork professionally cleaned. If the system was running during the fire the smoke residue will be spread through the ducting.
If the system was exposed to extreme heat have it inspected by a professional before use.

SMOKE DAMAGED ITEMS: If there has been significant damage to household items such as textiles, clothing, housewares, kitchenware, consider having them packed out and removed for professional cleaning.
Textile items will absorb the odors and hold it for a long time. The earlier they are cleaned properly the less damage will occur and the less odor will be spread through the home and other items. Smoke residue can be acidic so proper treatment is critical to avoid further damage.

PLASTIC ITEMS: Plastic items that have been subjected to extreme heat should be discarded. This can include toys, children’s furniture, highchairs, outdoor furniture, decorative items etc.
Many plastics will form a chemical bond with the compounds in smoke and any discoloration or odor may be permanent. These should be discarded.

PROTECT KITCHEN & BATHROOMS: If heat is off and weather is freezing, pour one tablespoon of antifreeze down sinks, toilet bowls, and tubs. Clean and protect chrome on faucets and appliances with a light coating of lubricant or a metal cleaner.

GROUT AND CAULKING AROUND PLUMBING FIXTURES: These materials will be compromised by the residue of fire, have all grouted surfaces and caulking around sinks, showers, tubs etc. inspected and replaced if necessary.

CLEANING OR PAINTING WALLS AND CEILINGS: To prevent smoke and soot from setting permanently, do not attempt to paint until after the walls are thoroughly cleaned. Smoke damage and the resulting odor is difficult to remove and needs to be thoroughly cleaned with the appropriate cleaning agents. Once cleaned the walls should be sealed with a high quality sealer such as shellac and only then should they be repainted.

PROTECTING WOODWORK: The finishes on wood furniture, cabinets and floors will start to degrade after exposure to smoke residue and heat. Depending on the duration of exposure refinishing may be necessary. Professional cleaning and restoration is necessary to evaluate and ensure no further damage.

ELECTRICAL APPLIANCES: Any electrical appliances that may have been close to fire, heat, or water should first be inspected for damage by a trained repair technician. You want to make sure that the heat of the fire did not damage any wiring or circuitry. Professionals will also make sure that any residue that may be inside the appliance is cleaned out. This will avoid the appliance overheating or shorting out in the future.
The surface of appliances and other metal fixtures in the house will be susceptible to corrosion. The residue from a fire is acidic and will start corroding finished metal surfaces quickly. Once the appliance or fixture has been determined to be safe and sound it should be cleaned to remove and neutralize any acidic residue.

CARPETS and UPHOLSTERY: To prevent permanent smoke damage, do not try to clean fabric or carpeting yourself. Call in professionals who are qualified to deal with fire damage restoration. Soot and smoke can contain acids that if not properly dealt with can cause further damage.

CLOTHING: Clothing that has been damaged by smoke should not be cleaned without consulting professionals. Just as with carpets the residue from fire can be damaging and if not properly dealt with it will continue to damage fabrics after washing. There are professionals who specialize in cleaning clothing and other textiles after a fire. If needed they came come to the home, pack the belongings, remove, clean and return them.

Dedorization: Deodorizing an entire house is a challenge. Remember the smoke goes everywhere that air goes, residue penetrates every surface of the home and only appropriate methods will ensure satisfactory results. Odors are the residue of combustion and the microscopic particles that contain odor will travel everywhere. The only appropriate means to eliminate odor is to eliminate the source. Every smoke particle that has penetrated the house needs to be neutralized.
Many of the products available commercially that advertise odor control are masking agents and will attempt to replace one odor with a different odor, they may also contain perfumes and other compounds that can stain fabric, leather and wood surfaces. Often the effect is temporary.
The first step to odor elimination is thorough cleaning. Textiles and clothing as mentioned before, cleaning and sealing the walls and ceilings. The final step is to eliminate any odor causing particles remaining throughout the house.
The most efficient method is to employ

Hydroxyl or Ozone

. Both processes create particles that bond with and neutralize the odor causing particles. This is the most thorough and complete method for eliminating odors. The ozone or hydroxyl particles travel and penetrate just as the smoke particles did.
• Ozone is faster but requires the house to be vacated. Ozone is dangerous to any living organism. Plants, people, pets, all must be vacated. Ozone can also cause oxidation of some other compounds such as rubber and some plastics.
• Hydroxyl is safe and can be used while the home is occupied. It is however, slower and requires more air movement to ensure it penetrates thoroughly and neutralizes odor causing particles. Hydroxyl was invented by NASA for use on the space station.

Summary:
Restoration of smoke and fire damage is very challenging. Fire can turn entire forests into ash and smoke that will penetrate every pore in a home. Every fire is unique and every cleanup job is unique in
that each possesses distinct characteristics and challenges. The temperatures, the time the home was exposed, the materials consumed in the fire, the time of year and other environmental conditions make each situation a puzzle to be solved. Professional restoration companies, with technicians certified by the IICRC are well trained in dealing with these issues and can gie advice from experience on what you should do when you are returning to your home after a wildfire evacuation. At PuroClean Disaster Response all of our technicians are certified by the IICRC, fully trained, bonded and background checked. Contact us today to see how we can help you get things back to normal.

Helpful links:

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment; Indoor air quality after a wildfire
Electronic and Appliance Restoration
FRS Team: Clothing cleaners