Every year, more than 300,000 residential buildings in the United States catch fire, leading to thousands of injuries and deaths. In 2021, Utah fires alone caused nearly $72 million in losses. These numbers would likely be higher if it weren’t for our brave firefighters and police officers. And let’s not forget the tireless efforts of countless specially-trained Utah fire clean up crews. Thanks to their prompt response, many homes are saved and not rendered completely inhospitable after a fire rages.
But this leaves us with a question: Can you sleep in your home after a fire? Is it even safe to do so? Today, we’ll walk through the specifics of household fires and the health and safety concerns that come with them to answer this question.
The Damage of a Fire
Fires are one of our planet’s most dangerous destructive forces, so when you hear “fire damage,” you immediately get an image of charred black ruin. Unfortunately, this is an oversimplification of the damage a house fire will leave behind.
The damage that consists entirely of burned and blackened property will usually be minimal if you quell a house fire quickly and effectively. While this will keep the visible damage isolated to only one or two rooms, it doesn’t mean there isn’t any more of it. This is because fires result in more damage than just burning.
With fire comes heat. This is a fact of life, but also something that we don’t immediately think of when it comes to fire damage. Regardless of whether a fire breaks out in one room or your whole home, the heat from the flames will cause damage to the area around it. It can cause the walls, floor, and furniture of your home to become weakened and warped and potentially collapse if not properly repaired. This is especially dangerous in areas with no visible fire signs. A weakened floor or retaining wall can look completely untouched yet still be one solid thud away from completely crumbling.
Burned items, such as furniture, carpets, electronics, and paint or wallpaper, will release a steady supply of carcinogenic gasses from exposed cinders. Soot and ash will continue to be present long after the fire is out, holding the potential to cause serious health concerns with prolonged exposure.
Often less visible than heat or fire damage, smoke damage is much more widespread than both. Smoke will billow out from the source of the fire, quickly filling every inch of space in the rooms around your home before it can escape through a window, door, or hole. Tiny particles of burnt matter known as soot cover every surface it lands on, sometimes staining with a dark brown or black color and leaving a terrible smell behind.
While soot can be cleaned from most surfaces, depending on how long or intense the fire is, it can get much deeper and be all the harder to remove. It can even get into vents and HVAC systems, embedding itself in the air that residents breathe. So if you decide to sleep in your home after a fire, you and your family will end up breathing this soot, leading to potential breathing problems or lung damage.
Considering that water damage will come from a fire seems counterintuitive, but it’s almost entirely synonymous with fires. Since water is the primary means firefighters will use to control fire, everything sprayed down will inevitably become soaked. The more intense the fire, the more water is used to quench it, resulting in more standing water left over once the fire is out.
This remaining water will need to be removed, and the longer it lingers, the more damage it will also cause. Floors and walls will become warped and weakened if left wet too long, and in warmer climates, soaked surfaces will become prone to infestations of mold. This mold holds several potential hazards to you and your family, from weakened structures to respiratory and allergic reactions.
So is it Safe to Sleep in a Property After a Fire?
In short: no.
While it may seem like the worst is over and you can begin the process of bringing your home back to life, you should not put yourself at risk. Just because the immediate threat of the flames themselves is over, several hazards will pose serious perils to your health if you choose to return to your home too soon. The structure of your home will be at risk of collapse, and the air within your home will be unsafe for breathing.
While not ideal, you should ensure that you and your family are evacuated temporarily from your home until it is fit for habitation once more. Moving in with friends or family is the best plan, preferably somewhere close to your home so you can still oversee the renovation. Other people choose to stay in a hotel for the duration, but if that’s not an option, charities like the American Red Cross or the Salvation Army are always on hand to help.
Once you are all safely clear, you can go about the recovery process. Your first step should be to document the state of your home and the extent of the damage. Keeping an up-to-date record of your home and the damage done to your property will help with insurance claims. After this, you can begin the process of clearing up the resulting mess.
As mentioned above, the air within your home will be too dangerous for you to breathe, so a good idea is to seek a professional cleaning company. They will be able to safely and securely clear out any standing water and damaged furniture without compromising the integrity of the house itself. They will also be able to give you advice about when it will be safe to return.
The best time to do so will be once all traces of soot and smoke are gone from the air, and all damaged walls and floors are secured. Until then, provided your insurance allows it, you should be able to claim “loss of use” on your property, which will help you with the daily expenses you may accrue.
After a fire, you and your family must vacate your home. Whether it’s a small fire in your kitchen or a huge inferno that destroys most of your home, it will be a little while before it is truly safe for habitation. Fortunately, you can always contact Utah fire restoration specialists to evaluate and restore your home so you and your family can return as soon as possible.