Helpful Tips For Dealing With Fire Damaged Media

Friday, October 13, 2017 by Jennifer Duits

With the wildfires raging in California, our hearts go out to those in the affected areas. Individuals and businesses in California’s wine country are experiencing loss on a catastrophic level, with some losing everything they have. Insurance will assist in helping to rebuild their lives, but there are many possessions which are irreplaceable.

There is still hope for fire-damaged devices with lost data. If handled properly and brought to an experienced data recovery company, data can be recovered from the device. You might assume that your data is unrecoverable; never make assumptions.  If anyone is looking for data recovery from a fire damaged device, here is some helpful information to increase your odds of recovery.

Hard Drive Damaged by Fire

We recently had a family lose their entire house to a fire. The fire started in the garage while the family’s two teen boys were home alone playing video games in the basement. Luckily, a neighbor driving by saw the fire and was able to help the boys escape from the house on time. Unfortunately, the family lost everything in the fire, including all of their photos which were stored on their home computer. An employee at Ontrack lived nearby and reached out to offer help.

The Damage that Fires can Cause

Let’s explore the damage a little. When you are talking about a Hard Drive (HDD) which has been damaged by fire, the temperature of the fire can determine the amount of damage. Fortunately, the enclosure in which the drive is housed can offer protections from some of the heat. When a drive is on its own, fully exposed to temperatures of around 100°, this may not cause any major damage. A longer exposure at 200° or higher is where data starts to become corrupted or worse.

An additional issue with fire damage, that is often overlooked, is that firefighters will use cold water to put the fire out, which not only causes water damage to the drive, but the extreme temperature change can cause further warping of the drive, extending the damage.  There is also potential for the water to contaminate the drive internally, which may not always be visible to the user, which is why it is critical to seek out a data recovery provider for proper cleaning in order to avoid even further damage.

Can the Data be saved?

Every data recovery case is unique and even cases with fire damage are not all the same. If you enlist the assistance of a data recovery expert who has experience with fire-damaged drives, you have a better chance of recovery.

In the story above about the family who suffered the home fire, they were able to salvage their burned computer.  .  They brought the system to the Ontrack office where engineers were able to help recover some of what had been lost by recovering all of the data from the hard drive, including all of their family photos.

Helpful Tips for a Fire-damaged Device:

  1. Do not attempt to operate any devices that have been in a fire, even if it is just smoke-damaged, as this can cause unseen damage inside the hard drive
  2. Do not shake, disassemble or attempt to clean any hard drive or server that has been damaged
  3. If there is apparent water damage, do not attempt to dry it out (keep it wet if possible)
  4. Do not try to remove the hard drive – ship the entire computer for recovery
  5. Call a data recovery professional for additional tips on shipping your device


If you have experienced data loss from the wildfires, please contact us at 800-872-2599 or for more information, please visit our website.