Fires are essentially worst-case scenarios in that they often start uncontrollably that by the time they are affectively put out, what may be left from the fiery process may be nothing more than mere columns of ashes and charred structures. The pace at which fires can engulf a whole structure is astounding so much so that time is of the critical importance in this case.
Domestic fires can literally ‘gobble’ down an entire house often with devastating consequences. Losses to property are great although the emotional trauma and the psychological insult of witnessing one’s property burn to ashes in minutes may perhaps be even greater than material losses. At times, loss of life and limb can also happen during violent domestic fires. In these instances, the fire becomes a tragic testimony to its very unpredictable nature.
Such erratic nature of fires should be first understood before average homeowners like us can ever think of ways to manage the consequences of a fiery event in our very homes.
Light up the Fire
The development of fire involves a variety of thermal (heat) and chemical processes that include three basic requirements: fuel, heat and oxygen. By understanding how these three elements interact to produce fire, we can somehow begin to comprehend the nature of fire and how best to approach one should we ever come face to face with fire in our very homes.
Fuel is the element that sustains the fire and provides the fire with materials that are needed in the combustion process. More often than not, combustible materials like wood, paper, cardboard, plastics, rubber, and synthetic materials are considered fuel. As a rule of thumb, anything can actually be a fuel because all matter have what scientists call its ignition point or that point in the chemical property of the material where it ignites or explodes. Some professionals call it the ‘flashpoint’ of that object.
Now, in order for fire to be initiated, a heating element should come in contact with a combustible material or the fuel. In this case, the heating element is anything that can provide heat on an object such as a lighted matchstick, the focused beam of sunlight via a magnifying glass, cigarette embers, or even a super-heated steel or iron rod. What the heating element does is that it increases the temperature of the combustible material to the point where it reaches its ignition point or its flashpoint. As the material reaches its ignition point, it releases a variety of highly volatile gases into the air. This is the smoke we can barely see before the actual flame is started.
Once the ignition point is reached, the resulting oxidation process is so rapid that it occurs in virtually fractions of a second. What happens is that as the ignition point is reached, the combustible material releases highly volatile gases into the air which interacts with oxygen. This interaction between the released volatile gases and oxygen in the air results in the oxidation, or combustion, of the former creating what we often see as flame and associate as the birth of fire.
The flame seen in fire therefore is the result of the chemical interaction between volatile gases and oxygen. The smoke that trails above the visible flame are the other volatile gases that were a product of the combustion process. In both processes, heat is produced which further heats up the remaining portions of the fuel load.
And the cycle repeats itself: heat raises the ignition point to release volatile gases that explode with the addition of oxygen to create more heat in return. Fire therefore, is a vicious cycle of positive feedback mechanism. The more heat generated, the bigger the fire, the greater heat produced which fuels the fire even more.
If the fire can no longer generate the heat it requires to reach the ignition point of materials, then it slowly dies down. Less heat will mean less combustion process which further lessens the heat generated, and the cycle goes on.
Practical Application for Homeowners
Since we now know that fire is the result of the interaction between heat, fuel and oxygen, removing any one of these fundamental requirements from the equation should automatically result to effective control over fires. And this is something that professional firefighters and professional fire and smoke damage companies are very well aware of. Homeowners, being the directly affected persons in cases of domestic fires, should also learn from this very basic understanding about fires.
Now comes the tricky part in our presentation – how to apply what we have learned in the real setting.
There are, of course, some more considerations you should make in order to fully operationalize the principles you have just learned. What is essential however is the assurance in the fact that it really takes time before you can even begin to comprehend the usefulness of such principles.
Since fire persists as long as there is heat and fuel load, removing these as feasibly can is one of the best ways to minimize fire damage. Without additional fuel load, the fire will generally die out on itself. If the fire started rather small, before even attempting to put it under control, you should first remove everything else near it that can serve as a ready source of fuel load. Remove highly combustible objects and or items like paper, books, wood, plastic and rubber out of the way. Only then can you begin to start attempting to control the fire.
In controlling or putting out the fire, you should remember that what fuels it is the heat generated by the initial flame. It s thus imperative that the temperature of the fire, especially the fuel load, is brought down to a much lower level than the ignition point of the materials in the fire. Experts do not usually recommend dousing the fire with water because water contains oxygen which can only add to the combustion process. What experts usually recommend is to throw into the fire sand or soil. Sandy soil is basically made up of silica that has a high ignition point. Meaning, this substance will never ignite with ordinary household or domestic fires alone.
With regards to the third element in the development of fires, oxygen, there is not much we can do about it because technically, it is in the air that we breathe. We cannot just go and remove this very important molecule in our existence.
The Elements of Fire Damage Cleanup and Restoration
After having gone through the various practical applications of the principles we learned so far, let us now take a look at the essential elements of effective fire damage cleanup and restoration. These will be ultimately be anchored on the very same principles we have stated earlier.
1. Time is a very important element in the control of fire damage. The promptness of firefighting activities as well as the efficiency in putting the fire under control can greatly translate into more meaningful fire damage cleanup and restoration.
2. Emergency board up services is another very important factor to consider in the management of an effective fire damage. These services are crucial in the sense that they provide temporary support to the various structures of the home such as windows, doors, walls, and ceilings. The support is necessary to prevent any likelihood of collapse because of the severely weakened structural integrity of the whole house secondary to the domestic fire. Preventing building collapse assures adequate protection and a relatively safe working environment for the professionals who will be performing the fire damage cleanup and restoration.
3. Adequate diagnostic assessment and evaluation is also needed to fully maximize the efficiency of professional-grade fire damage cleanup and restoration. By using only the latest in diagnostic imaging, professional fire damage technicians will be able to determine the structural integrity and overall livability of the building. Such tests will also point out areas in the home where adequate support measures are to be initiated.
4. The initiation of the fire damage cleanup should be, at the very least, systematic and organized. This is to prevent any chance of missing any crucial household items, belongings, or fixtures that need cleanup and restoration. In the fire damage cleanup work, systematicity should be balanced by thoroughness of the cleanup procedures. The extensive use of industrial-grade fire damage cleaning, sanitizing and deodorizing solutions can be controversial at times but these are very important tools to getting the job done.
5. In the restoration of fire damaged articles, professionals employ a variety of techniques that, sadly, only they can comprehend. Although the principles of restoring fire damaged items to their pre-fire state are essentially similar across all types of fires, the difference now lies in the approach professional fire damage restorers employ in each individual case of domestic fire.
6. Adequate protection against further deterioration of the fire damaged property is another important element in the effective management of fire damage cleanup and restoration. The key thing to understand is that, although the house may have been gutted down by the fire, hope is not at all lost in attempting to restore whatever is left to be restored. It is these restorable property that needs adequate protection.
Perhaps central to the idea of combining together all of these elements in successful fire damage cleanup and restoration is the fact that it takes a professional mindset to fully comprehend the real nature of domestic fires. And although we do not discount the possibility that average homeowners can understand the basic requirements of the principles of fire damage management, there are essentially a lot more to be required from us vis-à-vis technology and competence.