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Identifying the Soot and Smoke Damage After a Fire

When it comes to damage caused by a fire, the end damage is not limited to damage done by the actual flames. Smoke and soot can cause both visible and hidden damage far beyond the area of the original fire. The damage can be caused by dry or wet smoke, synthetic substances, protein material, petroleum or natural substances.

Dry vs Wet Smoke:

Wet Smoke – Plastic and Rubber - Low heat, smoldering, pungent odor, sticky, smeary. Smoke webs are more difficult to clean.

Dry Smoke – Paper and Wood - Fast burning, high temperatures, heat rises therefore smoke rises.

Dry smoke residue is usually powdery and dry. High-heat, fast-burning fires fueled by wood and paper typically produce dry smoke. The fine powder is often simpler to clean since it is easy to wipe off. However, it can fall into cracks and porous surfaces, and while the soot may be hidden from view, the smell will remain.

Wet smoke damage typically comes from low-heat, slow-burning fires. This thick, black smoke leaves behind an often thick and sticky residue with a strong odor. Wet smoke residue smears easily, which often makes cleanup more difficult. Both burning plastic and rubber produce wet smoke.

Synthetic Substances:

It’s left behind after oil-based materials are burned, like plastics and fabrics. This can include any electronics, drapes, carpets, furniture, and some clothes. As synthetic materials burn, they create a thick billowy black smoke that rises up quickly. It clings to walls and objects, leaving behind a smudged-looking residue. Avoid touching this residue, as it can leave a bigger mess behind if not cleaned up properly. Your best defense to cleaning synthetic residue is to vacuum it up, followed by a dry-chem sponge cleaning.

Protein Residue:

Protein Fire Residue – Produced by evaporation of material rather than from a fire. Virtually invisible, discolors paints and varnishes, extreme pungent odor. 

The burning of protein materials is exactly what it sounds like. When a fire consumes meats, beans, etc., it will leave behind a yellowish-brown residue. It will look like grease smeared on your walls (think of the inside of your oven, the cooking grate on your grill, or a dirty pan after cooking meat). Since this residue is extra greasy, it’s extra difficult to clean up. The best way to tackle this mess is with proper professional fire cleaning chemicals specifically for protein-based residue.

Petroleum Smoke:

Petroleum smoke comes from burning oil. This includes any oil-based substances too. This type of smoke is dark in appearances and will discolor and stain any material it touches. This smoke can ruin upholstery and flooring if not taken care of quickly.

Natural Substances:

Natural residue is left behind after natural materials are burned, like wood or paper. This type of residue is similar to ash in color, and tends to be more dry and powdery. Natural residue is the easiest of all three to clean up. Similar to the synthetic residues, start by vacuuming up the area with a bristle brush, and following up with a dry-chem sponge cleaning.

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