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Post-Fire Cleanup - Dealing with Water and Smoke Damage

written by: Jayant R Row • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 5/25/2011

Water from firefighting operations and smoke from a fire causes lots of damage and a need for cleaning operations once the fire is put out. This cleanup should be started as soon as possible, but only after making sure the structure and electrical systems are safe.

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    Fire Fighting and Damage

    800px-2003 fire in Seattle Public Safety Building 

    Damage caused by fires is often more from the effects of the water used to fight the fire and smoke than from the actual fire itself. Water damages furniture, electronic equipment, and the walls and floors of a home or structure. Smoke can damage sensitive equipment and become engrained in walls, furniture, fixtures, and other items. The odor from smoke can also last a very long time.

    The damage process from the smoke and water does not stop abruptly as soon as the fire is put out; the sooner tasks like ventilating, drying, structural repairs, and inspections can made, the sooner the structure can be returned to habitable condition.

    Thus the home owner, as soon as possible, needs to make a thorough inspection of the building and all other items that were exposed to the fire, smoke, and water.

    Image source: Wikimedia

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    Assessing Damage Caused by Fires and Resultant Fire Fighting Activities

    800px-US Navy 090624-N-0930T-061 U.S. Naval Sea Cadets get hands-on fire fighting training during the two weeks Shipboard Aircraft Firefighting School at Naval Air Station Lemoore 

    The first thing to be done after a fire is put out is to make a physical inspection of the building to make sure that no unsafe conditions have resulted from the fire, water, and smoke damage. It is only once safety is assured that you can go ahead to make an assessment of the damage caused.

    While minor damage caused by small fires can be tackled easily, more extensive damage may require professional expertise. Larger organizations will have the help of their insurers and thus will be able to also pay for such activity. Small businesses and home owners may prefer to or have to do this on their own.

    Image Source: Wikimedia

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    Smoke and Water Damage Clean-up After the Fire is Put Out

    After the necessary check-out of the physical structure, you need to inspect the electrical systems and wiring- before the power is switched back on. Make sure as much of the electrical equipment is open to air circulation and allowed to dry completely before you attempt to restore the power. Note that this may require taking continuity and resistance readings on each circuit to make sure that it is in condition to transmit power once again.

    Water damage to the building and furniture can be cleaned up with the help of rented dehumidifiers and fans.

    Initially all water on the floor and walls should be mopped up and blotted. Furniture should be wiped dry, and all furnishings should be put out to dry. This must include carpets, curtains, cushions, beds, clothes, books, and personal belongings.

    Electrical and other appliances are best assigned to an appliance repairman for drying, inspecting, and testing before they are put into use again.

    Household heaters and ventilation can also help dry out the house. While you can put things out in the sun to dry, you must be careful that they are not items than can be further damaged by the sunlight and heat.

    To clean up smoke damage, all upholstery, furnishings, and carpets should be vacuumed or blowers should be used. Smoke remains as an odor in most furnishings, and clothing may even need to be sent to dry cleaners. All food that has been exposed to smoke must be discarded. Soot as a result of the smoke must be cleaned from wherever it has accumulated, including from the leaves of houseplants. Despite best efforts, the odor from smoke can sometimes last for long periods of time that can go into months or years.

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    Easy Ways of Removing Smoke Odors

    Running ozone generators in rooms that are unoccupied can remove the most persistent of odors and is a fairly cheap way of removing smoke odor. Such generators can be hired out if you do not want to go through the expense of buying one. As such generators can also be useful if there are smokers in the house. So, buying one after a fire has damaged your house may not be a bad idea.

    Fire restoration deodorizers are another way to remove the odor from smoke. These are available in concentrated form and need to be diluted before being sprayed in the room or areas that have been affected by fire and smoke after completing the other operations of cleaning and removal of damaged furniture and furnishings.

    Simple home remedies for removing such smoke odor can be by using white vinegar to wipe down walls and furniture and also keeping some bowls of vinegar in the rooms for a few days. Vinegar has a strong smell which some people may not find convenient. They can add lavender to the vinegar to make it smell better. Baking soda liberally sprinkled over floors and in bowls can also help to absorb smoke odor. There are also other items easily available like activated charcoal and Febreeze which can reduce smoke odor. And always make sure that the rooms remain well ventilated with windows open so that the odor from the smoke does dissipate.

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