Building owners and homeowners often rejoice when they see the “red cloud” dumped by helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft on the wildfires approaching their homes and offices. But the aftermath cleanup rarely met with cheers. The fire retardant that dropped usually contains a combination of water. Fertilizer (with thickening agents and ammonium), and red dye (usually iron-based – hence the red color).
Smoke, ash, and retardant residue are all often found inside houses even though the firefighters stopped the fire from actually coming anywhere near the front door.
Untrained restoration teams focus on the interior, but savvy content pros know that every time the door opened, particulates come swirling in. So it is common for the valet to clean a space leading from the owner’s driveway to the foyer. Then “walk-off mats” placed inside as a secondary precaution
Some untrained teams might be tempted to spray the red-dyed fire retardant with bleach in order to fade its color. The professionals don’t (mixing the ammonium from the retardant with chlorine bleach creates an explosive gas – no kidding)!
Retardants and suppressants can be skin irritants (whether in the city or out in a wildfire country), so personal protection gear is essential for such cleanups. While wildfire retardant chemicals appear to be fairly harmless, after all, they are simply water and fertilizer. That eventually dries out into a powder that can be vacuumed up or washed away. The truth is, according to researcher Patrick J. Moffett, REA, CHMM, “…they can cause pitting and damage to some building materials and contents. Meaning, the longer they remain on a surface. There can be an increase of damage to finishes and materials including discoloration.”
The city equivalent is foam or dry fire extinguisher compounds. And there are numerous techniques for removing those. HEPA vacs of course, but alcohol-based compounds, vinegar-based solutions, and more used to break down the adhesive properties of the extinguisher contents.
Artworks, food material, electronics and more, all have to clean quickly in order to avoid a dramatic increase in the loss (actually food – even sealed food – is usually discarded after being exposed to fire extinguisher mixtures).
As is always the case in fire and smoke remediation jobs, a digital photo inventory made of each and every room and item affected. Mild detergents and surfactants used to clean hard surfaces. The deodorization process begins as we have described it in previous articles. Many fabric, furniture, and paper items removed from a cleaning facility (after an initial HEPA vacuuming).
And an assembly line of cleaning and deodorizing begins (and continues) until the adjuster and the owner satisfied.
It is no place for amateurs. Children, the elderly, and those with respiratory ailments will be adversely affected by the almost invisible particles. They have wormed their way in through every crack, crevice, window, doorway, and vent.
Only a professional contents crew has any hope of restoring such a home or office to pre-loss condition. Be sure to hire a good one – the process may repeat, but there is no good reason it has to repeat because of cross-contamination errors.