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Had a house fire


thock
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We had a house fire on Saturday night. Luckily, we discovered it early, and got us and the dog out ASAP, and the fire people (don't wanna say firemen, because there was at least one woman there, too) got the cats out.

However, they are telling us we have to replace a bunch of stuff, among them my rolling pins and Revereware, and my nice, thick pizza stone, and our knife blocks, and our cutting boards, and my Cuisinart, and everything plastic. They said they can clean my KitchenAid, though. Oh, darn on the Revereware. Apparently, they can't get the smoke stuff out of plastic or anything porous. Although they took my pressure cooker with plastic handles, so....

Anyhow, I'm wondering about the wooden stuff. Do I REALLY need to replace my year-old BoardSmith board?!? And do I REALLY have to replace my French pin? And this brings up the obvious question about whether stuff you can get at thrift stores and yard sales has ever been in a house fire, etc.

So, what do you all think? I'm going to e-mail Dave and get his opinion on my wonderful, beautiful board, but I'd welcome opinions from everyone else, as well.

Tracy

Lenexa, KS, USA

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@thock: Really sorry to hear your loss but glad you are all ok, pets included.

I'm interested to hear what you learn on this as you go along. Unless cooking items are charred I can't imagine why most couldn't be saved. They're used for cooking after all, where heat flame and odors are expected. The board, even if were actually somewhat charred, could probably be run through a planer or sanded to resurface it.

The electric items may need to be replaced if they were hosed down when they put out the fire, that I could understand.

Like @Mjx said, unless there were chemicals used to extinguish the fire that couldn't be safely cleaned off, I'd think you'd be good to go for most of it.

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Unfortunately we have lived through two massive house fires...last one in 1995, please let it be the very last...and never has anyone suggested that we throw out anything. The house contents, both times, went to a reputable restoration company and all was restored. The insurance company covered both fires and they were incredibly generous I thought.

Don't understand the rationale of the instructions handed out to you...

Good luck.

Darienne

 

learn, learn, learn...

 

Life in the Meadows and Rivers

Cheers & Chocolates

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MJX, there are a combination of reasons, including both odor and chemical contamination. I don't know what kinds of toxic chemicals are released when burning building materials, such as insulation and vapor barrier, but I do know that burning just wood is very dirty, which is why you want to have a well-drafting flue.

According to Dave, the board is bare, since the mineral oil/wax coating goes below the surface. "Odors and stains are more likely to penetrate an oil finish since it is so soft and only provides water resistance rather than repellency."

According to a friend of mine, who is both an electronics geek and a fireman (volunteer, did investigations, and was captain before he quit volunteering), there are several issues with smoke. One is smoke is very corrosive, and will, over time, deteriorate the solder connections and the insulation on wiring and cabling in a system. Another is carbon tracking, where the carbon particles in the smoke can, and will over time, create short circuits and lower-resistance pathways on circuit boards. If smoke is dense, it can infiltrate sockets for processors, etc. It is virtually impossible to clean these unless they were encapsulated before the fire. People who keep their electronics will find that they will die prematurely, perhaps because of the smoke damage, but that is impossible to determine.

Sounds to me like it's safest to get electronics replaced, from a financial perspective, and also from a further fire prevention perspective. I don't want shorts to cause ANOTHER fire.

I think that the canned goods, both commercially- and home-canned, should be ok, and I'm thinking that if I can't smell my vanilla and other extracts with the lids closed, it's doubtful that any smoke got through, but I will start another batch next week, and use as little as possible of the batch that survived the smoking until I can find out further info. That's something that can't be replaced easily, and they're all in glass jars. We're pitching all the non-perishables that are in paper or plastic, though. Apparently, smoke is oily, and can bond with plastic, making it impossible to clean.

<sigh> I think the aftermath is worse than the actual fire...

I will post more as I learn more, and hopefully this information will help someone down the road.

Tracy

Lenexa, KS, USA

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I had a whole, long thing typed out, and lost it. Grrrrrrrrr.***

MJX, the considerations are both odor and chemical contamination. Burning just wood releases a lot of contaminants, which is why you want to have a well-drafting flue. Burning building materials, such as insulation and vapor barrier, releases more toxic chemicals.

Smoke is apparently oily and caustic. The oils in smoke can bond with plastic, and make it impossible to clean.

Wood coated with paint or varnish is cleanable, but according to Dave, where the finish is penetrating and doesn't form a film, odors and stains are more likely to set in. The mineral oil/wax coating used for wooden kitchen utensils is water resistant, rather than repellent. He said odors in a board can sometimes be eliminated using baking powder, but too much will cause the board to stain, since that is also caustic. It also seems to me that the oily smoke particles will have bonded with the oil/wax finish. While that would be easier to remove than it is to clean plastic, the cleaning process might ruin the board, anyway.

According to a friend of mine who is both an electrical geek and a fire dude, because of the corrosiveness of smoke, and the lack of encapsulation of most electronics, over time the smoke particles will deteriorate the solder connections and insulation on wiring and cabling. Also, carbon particles can form short circuits and paths of lesser resistance, where small exposed traces exist on circuit boards, and also where higher voltage circuits exist. Smoke can also infiltrate processor sockets. He had a chimney fire about 10 years ago, and chose not to replace some of his electronics. Over time, most of them, including ones that were not exposed to as much smoke, have died premature deaths. He suspects that it was because of smoke damage.

The insurance company said that all the food is a loss, including canned goods. I asked the ServPro people why the canned goods, and they said that most people don't want the smoke smell that they can't get out of the labeling, although the food itself should be ok. I'm guessing that my extracts, vanilla, cacao nib, aniseed, cinnamon, etc. are ok, since they're all in canning jars (not vacuum sealed, but screwed down tightly), but I will be starting new at the earliest opportunity.

I think I'd rather replace my wooden utensils that were exposed to open smoke than take chances with our health. And I do know that soot got inside the kitchen drawers, because the trash bag roll that was in our lowest drawer was covered with a fine film of oily soot. That gives me pause.

<sigh> I think the aftermath is worse than the event...

I will continue to add more information as I receive it in the hopes that this will help some other poor, unlucky soul in the future.

***Edited to say that it looks like I DIDN'T lose it, but I'm going to retain both posts for a bit.

Edited by thock (log)

Tracy

Lenexa, KS, USA

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  • 3 weeks later...

Update:

Turns out that there are all sorts of potentially carcinogenic things that can be released in a house fire, and smoke is both oily and corrosive. If something is porous, it's not likely that it can be made completely clean by any known cleaning methods. I imagine that if I had access to a really hot kiln, I could probably cook off any gasses in the pizza stones, but that wouldn't take care of any particulates. And there's really nothing that one can do to clean unsealed wood. Also, smoke can penetrate plastic bags and cardboard; thus, the admonition to discard any food wrapped in such materials. And smoke particulates can adhere to plastic well enough that they can't be removed.

My ex, who is also still a friend, and was a firefighter and investigator, said he would not take chances with any plastic food-containing items, such as Tupperware (of which I have none) or the plastic lids of glass containers, such as the lids that come on Pyrex storage ware and on Glasslock containers.

Plastic wrap, parchment, waxed paper, and foil are probably contaminated, as well, so should be replaced. Any hygiene items in plastic containers are likewise better to toss and replace.

Plastic-handled cookware that is otherwise metal or glass is perfectly safe to use. The usual objection to keeping those items, according to the service providers, is aesthetic: They can't get the smell out, and people would rather not be reminded of a bad event. Me, I'm not so picky, so we'll be keeping the Revereware.

Of course, people can always make their own judgements about whether they would like to risk certain things. Many people eat "undercooked" eggs and meat, myself among them, because we like those things better that way, and we feel the risk is minimal. However, I CAN repurpose many things for non-food use. I have marked all the wooden utensils (spoons, spatulas, etc.) with red, to remind me they're not for food use. I can use them for mixing other things, like potting soil, or wax, or whatever. Likewise, the plastic cutting sheets can be used in the shop for mixing epoxy, or can be used for scooping up cat yak. The silicone mats (Silpat and the like) can be used for non-food purposes, too, and the pizza stones will be put to use as a resting place for filled bullet casting molds, or for the welding table.

I'll have to replace all the Pyrex storage lids and the Glasslock lids, but the glass containers themselves are fine, after washing.

The food in canning jars with rings and flats should be ok, after a wash of the exteriors. Wooden- and plastic-handled knives will be ok, too.

I won't take a risk with stuff that will directly contact food, but for the most part, that stuff is not too expensive to replace, with the exception of the pizza stone and the large cutting board. But of course, the cutting boards can be repurposed for non-food uses, as well.

Already, my laptop is showing signs that it's not long for this world, so I can already see the effects of smoke on electronics.

I hope this info will help someone down the line, if he or she is victim of a fire.

Tracy

Lenexa, KS, USA

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Thank you for all that good information. Would that we never have to use it. We have lived through two house fires, our last one in 1995.

None of this information appears to have been well known in our area back then. I guess we were just lucky. Both fires were at the end of the house farthest away from the kitchen. I would not wish a house firs on anyone.

Thanks again.

Darienne

 

learn, learn, learn...

 

Life in the Meadows and Rivers

Cheers & Chocolates

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Interesting. My parents had a serious house fire 25 years ago and my mother is still using a lot of the kitchen utensils and pots we salvaged. No one gave us any instruction to dump them.

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Well, it's possible they didn't know, 25 years ago, what they know now. I haven't yet done any independent searching on the smoke byproducts of a house fire, but I intend to.

Tracy

Lenexa, KS, USA

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burn coffee.... yep... take a large pot put it on a hot plate fill it with coffee grinds soat with water and then leave... let it burn til it's really burnt bad... til there is nothing left to burn...

within a day you'll not smell anything.... it's what the dead body clean up guy told me years ago... i've used it a few times... and it worked

Fire proof your area 1st

Then

Coffee grounds in an old pan.

Set on a hotplate and burn the grounds for a couple hours.

Come back the next day and ventilate.

I did that on a reposessed house that smelled stagnant, old and ####.

8months later I still catch a coffee scent now and then but none of the old odors.

I always have good luck with 2 cups hydrogen peroxide, 2 drops dishwashing liquid and 2 teaspoons of baking powder. Increase the quanities as necessary for what ever you need. Mix the ingrediants together in your applicator of choice. It will lose it's effectiveness if stored so only mix up what you are going to use right away.

Saturate whatever stinks with it and let dry. Your problem may take a couple applications due to the severity, but it should do the trick!

For what it's worth, the above recipe has been successful on both cat and dog ####, as well as skunk spray (on sprayed dog AND human - don't ask how I know!)

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