Wildfires are proving to be a major and significant issue in our nation, especially in hot spots like California, North Carolina and Texas. It is estimated that there have been over 45,000 wildfires in 2020 alone and that the ramifications for home and property owners alike have been life-changing.
Because of this, restorers and other emergency personnel must take the task of rehabilitating homes and structures seriously, in order to return families and business owners back to structures that are similar to, or better than, what they were like pre-loss.
Wildfires are fires that affect the outdoor area. They are common in desert lands, grasslands, forests and other environments, but are by no means limited to those areas. They can be caused by lightning and dry weather conditions that eventually lead to the ignition of dried organic matter, such as twigs and leaves.
Though the term “Wildfire” is used to describe outdoor burning that goes for miles and causes destruction to vegetation, habitats and wildlife, there are actually several different subtypes of wildfires that go by different names.
For example, in densely forested areas such as Colorado, a wildfire might be called a forest fire, based on the fact that the fire in question involves taller vegetation, such as trees, that are 6-feet or more in height.
Still yet, in other areas such as Australia, what might be considered a wildfire in America will likely be referred to a “bush” or “brush” fire.
Other versions of outdoor fires include treetop fires that spread from the tops of trees, smoldering fires that are hot spots that linger after fires have been put out and ground fires that are fueled by decaying matter and materials such as leaves, small plants and bark.
Grazing fires are also a threat, as these fires occur in grasslands and affect herding animals that graze. Swamp fires, or peat bog fires, occur in swamp areas such as in Georgia or at Duck Lake in Michigan.
No matter what type of fire has ravished an area, outdoor wildfires and their subtypes have the potential to leave much destruction and agony in their wake. Thus, it is important that those living in areas often affected by wildfires know what to do and who to turn to when their lives suddenly become impacted by uncontrolled scorching events.
What Does It Take To Create a Fire?
In order to create a fire, three components must be present. That is heat, an oxidizing agent and fuel. In the case of a wildfire, the oxidizing agent is likely oxygen itself, while the fuel is the vegetation and any other outdoor element being scorched in the process.
Health Effects on the Responders and Victims
Gasses, vapors and particulates from wildfires can adversely affect the lungs and health of all who are exposed. Because of this, it is imperative that responders and anyone else on the scene of the affected location be wearing a half or full-face respirator with HEPA organic cartridges in them.
One of the effects that wildfires and other outdoor fire events has on homes and businesses is the embedding of the smell of smoke throughout the structure. Smoke can permeate the insulation of the building, and flames can destroy landscapes. Moreover, the odor of smoke will likely be throughout the structure, making breathing and day-to-day living of lesser quality than it once was. Nitrogen oxides and dangerous VOCs are also released into the air, causing even more of a concern throughout communities.
Contrary to what many believe, an N-95 or N-100 mask will not be effective against the inhalation of the dangerous particles emitted from wildfire aftermath. Vapors and gasses emitted from wildfires can be even smaller than dust and smoke particles, meaning they can enter the lungs quickly in only a short period of time.
Some of the most common physical symptoms that gasses and vapors produced by outdoor burning events include, but aren’t limited to:
- Burning eyes
Yet, the health risks don’t stop there.
As wildfire buildings and exteriors burn, there are chemicals and carcinogens that are released into the air, along with soot and other hazardous debris. If inhaled, these chemicals can have adverse effects on human health long-term.
For these reasons, it is crucial that remedial care staff be protected with the personal protective equipment and the information necessary to make informed decisions about how to prevent the inhalation of dangerous chemicals and how to avoid potentially dangerous situations during the remediation process.
Cleaning and Restoration of Wildfire Impacted Homes and Structures
When it comes to cleaning and restoring wildfire damaged homes and structures, restorers know that there’s more that has been lost than material possessions. Depending on the severity of the fire, it is possible that people have been injured, pets have been lost and the emotional toll that the fire has taken on building owners and occupants could be insurmountable.
Because of this, restorers and other parties involved have been trained to take wildfire victim’s needs seriously, and desire to help. Many will have resources and information that can resolve urgent situations such as lost or injured pets, and they can also inform you of what you can expect of the rehabilitation process going forward.
Once the immediate needs of the affected building occupants have been addressed, remediation staff can begin addressing issues involving the structure itself.
Because wildfires cause large amounts of soot and smoke residue, the effects of wildfires can be felt for miles. Sometimes, even the ash that rests upon a building or home closest to the fire can be picked up by wind and transported to buildings nearby. Even if these buildings had been cleaned and remediated once before, it is possible that they will need cleaning once again, when this transference occurs.
As for the remediation process, restorers will inspect the property, externally first, and then internally. They will confer with insurance claims adjusters and may be in contact with third-party specialists depending on the need of the situation and the items damaged.
Most items involved in a wildfire situation that are damaged can be remediated using wet cleaning and detergent solutions, but not everything will be restored this way. There are some items that will require dry vacuuming and other techniques to keep their value intact.
There are times, however, when some items may not be worth salvaging. Valuables in this category may include old books, papers, drapes, soft toys and clothing. Nevertheless, if the building or property owner wishes for an item to be cleaned, the restorer can try his or her best to test the object in question for cleanability, but no guarantees can be made.
Generally speaking, anything hard or non-porous may be salvageable, however, items like instruments and electronics will likely need third-party assessment and remedial care.
Wildfire Devastation Is an Ongoing Threat
Though wildfires tend to ravish certain areas in excess, the truth is that no one in any geographical location is completely immune. For that reason, it is vital that property owners, and especially property owners that live near hot spot zones, take care to secure their properties through proper insurance coverage and preventative protocol.
When disaster does strike, restorers and other personnel will strive to meet you with the sympathy, professionalism and the skills you deserve to get your home or property potentially restored back to its pre-loss condition, or better.