Fire season has arrived early to my region (San Diego) and we have been inundated with calls from last week’s devastating fires in our county. Thankfully our incredible fire crews saved many homes, buildings, and certainly lives.
Now the clean-up begins.
Though most of our clients were not in the those neighborhoods where homes burned down this time, many experienced the heavy smoke and ash that went airborne throughout our county with the strong winds, and we are all trying to get that acrid smell out of our homes. The fine fire particulate gets into the HVAC systems, and comes through our windows/doors, and will contribute to odor issues until those particulates are physically cleaned away.
And it is not just the irritation of the smoke odor. These airborne fire particulates can contribute to sore throats and coughing, bloodshot and irritated eyes, nose bleeds and other sinus issues. People with asthma need to be especially careful outside in this type of pollution. Those in the heaviest hit areas likely have to leave their neighborhoods to try to breathe fresh air again.
I tried to find some useful information to share on my blog for our clients regarding this type of clean up, and there are very few good resources that I could find. (If you see any great resources, PLEASE let me know.)
One page that I did find with useful information regarding fire damage and homes was on the IICRC website (the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning, and Restoration Certification). Here are their guidelines on handling fire damage in a home or building. CLICK HERE IICRC: Fire Smoke Damage Tips
Here are the tips that I am offering to our clients.
CLEAN UP QUICK CEILING TO FLOOR. (Plan to do it again.)
I live in Ramona, and when we had the devastating 2007 fires in our town, with so many homes lost, that odor was truly horrible. Not just ash, but the smell of burnt plastics and metals and every other item you can imagine incinerated.
Those who did not have direct fire structural damage requiring fire restoration/rebuilding contractors sought out professional cleaning companies to handle it all: air duct cleaning, ceiling and wall cleaning, carpet cleaning, hard floor cleaning, air scrubbers to get the air cleaned, and of course rug cleaning. Most insurance companies covered this type of clean up for owners and renters of homes/businesses.
The problem we experienced at that time was after a rush of getting indoor environments liveable again, we had another strong Santa Ana wind come in weeks later that picked up soot and ash and blew it all through our living spaces again. So we cleaned again.
My advice to clients (especially those in the San Marcos, Carlsbad, Bonsall, and Pendleton areas) has been to get everything cleaned quickly because the acidity of soot/ash harms most surfaces and fibers, but be prepared to do it again in the next month or two unless we get some rains to help prevent all of this soot and ash from getting airborne again.
With rugs, soot and smoke needs to be washed out of the fibers.
In situations where rugs have light to moderate smoke odor, a standard wash will take care of the problem by washing away the fine particulates that have grabbed onto the fibers and are carrying the odor with them. Afterwards regular vacuuming can keep your rugs in their best condition.
(For step-by-step how to properly, and safely, vacuum your rugs read my post on vacuuming rugs. That is the most common question I get, so I answered it in depth.)
Heavier fire damage requires some additional care.
In these situations, the rug requires washing, but also deodorizing with solutions formulated to help remove the odor source from natural fibers (wool, silk, or cotton).
Sometimes the damage is too extensive to save the rug, such as with this rug:
One of the nice qualities about wool is that is has a high moisture content that results in it self-extinguishing flames in most cases. This is why you see wool carpet and fabric used in airplanes and also in many hotels.
Small fire damage burns in rugs can often be reknotted, so it is always worth determining whether a rug can be saved when it is part of a fire.
Most heavy soot and ash can be removed if a professional rug washer can get to the damaged rug sooner rather than later. The longer that acidic ash and residue stays on the fibers, the more damage that is caused to the rug fibers and dyes.
One rug owner did not think this rug would be salvageable.
This rug was one of the few items to survive this home fire, and because the work was performed very soon after the loss, the rug – and the memories from that trip to Turkey – were saved.
Often when a home is lost to fire, one of the few items that can be saved are the wool and silk rugs. It is not much… but it is something when everything you own may have been taken away in something devastating like this. Every rug usually has a “story” to it, so it is nice to help save a happy memory in the midst of an unhappy experience.
Our thanks go out to the fire crews who helps to protect our city last week, and my prayers and hugs go out to those who lost their homes in this disaster.
P.S. If you have any clean up questions, or if you need any recommendations of companies in the San Diego area to help clean up your home, please feel free to email me. I know many outstanding cleaning companies in our county, as well as professional fire restoration/rebuilding companies if your insurance company has not already recommended one to you. And of course, if your rugs need to be washed and held in storage while your home is put back together again, we are here to help. Good luck everyone on the big clean up to return us back to America’s Finest City again.