Smoke is a problematic component to fire that is often overlooked. While most people tend to focus only on the fire itself, the truth is that smoke has the capability to utterly destroy a structure and its components if not professionally restored in the proper amount of time.
What Is Smoke?
Smoke is made up of particles and gasses and occurs when the process of combustion fails to complete. Combustion requires fuel, oxygen and heat to be achieved. When combustion is fulfilled, fire often becomes visible, though not always, as there are some combustion reactions by which oxygen levels remain low. A low oxygen reaction will yield larger quantities of soot. If there isn’t enough oxygen to burn completely, smoke will be produced.
Many know how dangerous smoke can be, but may not quite understand why.
Because smoke is made of particles and gasses that emit from incomplete combustion, smoke can penetrate materials, surfaces and more. But it doesn’t stop there.
Smoke particles are described in terms of microns, where one micron is equivalent to 1/1,000,000 of a meter. While dust generally measures around 50 or more microns per particle, smoke particles measure only between 0.1 to 4. Because of this, smoke can easily infiltrate the human body and cause unpleasant symptoms such as burning eyes or a cough. But of more concern is the toll that smoke can take on human health, as it has the ability to penetrate the lungs and even cause death in some cases.
With this in mind, restorers will come ready to take to the task of restoring your home or business wearing appropriate personal protective equipment. This could involve coats, boots, glasses, and in the case of smoke, a properly-fitted filtering mask.
It is important to note that N-95 masks, though effective at straining out 95% of illness-causing viruses and bacteria, are not effective at filtering smoke particles. Occupants and property owners should never use N-95 masks to shield themselves from the effects of smoke.
Most have never considered it, but smoke from a fire has predictable behaviors that, when identified, can aid restorers in remediating a fire-affected home or building.
The particular way in which smoke operates depends largely on the following factors:
- Nature and gravity
- Combustion temperatures
- High and low pressure
- Hot and cold
By observing and identifying the above factors pertaining to typical smoke patterns, a remediator will have a much easier time restoring the affected structure.
Nature and Gravity: You may have heard it said that “what goes up, must come down,” and the same is true of fall out after a fire. Unfortunately, soot and other debris from smoke can be found laying on the horizontal surface including carpet, the tops of baseboards and more, following a fire event.
Combustion Temperatures: As previously described, combustion can be simplified as the chemical reaction between an oxidant and fuel. As combustion temperatures rise, they release small micron particulates that can easily permeate a structure. As such, when surfaces come in contact with these ever-increasing temperatures, the pores in them enlarge and trap smoke particles as they cool down again.
High and Low Pressure: In tandem with combustion temperatures come laws of high and low pressure. When combustion transpires, temperatures rise causing pressure to build. As temperatures continue to increase, more energy is added to the combustion, and the smoke produced is going to seek somewhere to go.
At this point, smoke begins to make its way around the affected building or structure and will infiltrate HVAC systems, cracks and more, in an attempt to find lower pressure. In this way, smoke follows the general rule of high-pressure attraction to low pressure.
Hot and Cold: Hot air generated by combustion will generally seek cooler areas. This includes cool surfaces such as windows, unheated rooms, drawers, closets and more.
Impingement: Impingement refers to grease-like splatters that can be visibly seen on materials such as drywall, and are often incurred due to high temperatures.
Ionization: Ionization occurs when positive and negative ions are attracted to one another and play a key role in the attraction of smoke ions to particular surfaces.
Magnetism: Sometimes, there are metal surfaces in a home or building that, when heated, will acquire a magnetic-like quality. Because of this, some particles may become attracted to these surfaces, and as such, these metal surfaces will become a target for restoration.
Smoke and Water Vapor
Every structure has humidity in the environment. This is known as relative humidity. The amount of humidity within a structure is important because it will react with smoke and eventually become acidic. This is problematic because there are fragments and materials of a home or structure that are particularly susceptible to being affected by this sort of acidic chemical output.
For example, plastics exposed to high heat temperatures or smoke often go from being white to off-white or yellow. Additionally, glass may become etched, and metal may tarnish. All of this may be remediated if done in a time-sensitive manner, although full restoration is not always guaranteed.
To compound the problem, fires are often put out by the use of large amounts of water. The longer this water sits in a home or structure, the more damage can be done. This is one of the primary reasons that remedial experts recommend always hiring a professional to restore fire or water damaged structures. Water breeds bacteria when it sits for too long, and conditions must be professionally assessed and dried using proper equipment and techniques to prevent secondary damage from occurring.
Smoke Poses More Risks Than One
To summarize, smoke poses a variety of harmful risks, both to individuals and to structures, alike. However, by analyzing the general nature of smoke and the way that it behaves, restorers can develop a plan for tackling fire and smoke affected areas to aid in restoring the structure back to its original state, or better.