Controlled Burn Surprises

garment storage pre-burn showing various covering materials

G'boroBurnBldgLast week C2C held our 5th Fire Recovery Workshop. We’ve coordinated these across the state—2 on the coast, one in the mountains, one in the Triangle, and this recent one in Greensboro. Past participants and long-time followers of this blog will recall that within days before these workshops our C2C team works with firefighters to conduct a controlled burn. Our staff brings shelves and a variety of objects, including metals, ceramics, wood, books, textiles, papers, and photographs. We stage some in containers and others loose on shelves or in an “exhibit” area so that participants can gauge the effectiveness of various storage materials.

Firefighters burn the mock “museum” in a fire training facility. Most of these are masonry structures with special tiles designed to absorb the heat of the fire. Consequently, after our first 3 controlled burns we were somewhat disappointed that many of the objects survived un-charred with a film of soot and a smoke odor. (We had hoped for a better range of damage for the recovery learning opportunity.) Our 4th training center was different. It was a large corrugated iron building and the objects experienced a range of damage, with those on top shelves faring much worse than those stored at lower levels.

garment storage post-burn

garment storage post-burn

taggingWorking with a masonry building once again in Greensboro, we stressed to the firefighters that we wanted objects damaged…and they delivered. They selected the basement level of their training facility for the most intense fire. Indeed, lower ceilings kept the fire near the objects’ levels. When we first entered the burn building it looked as if there would be little for our participants to recover at all. However, some containers, though destroyed, protected enough of the objects that our participants could still practice triage and treatment techniques.

Surprises and lessons from our 5th controlled burn:

  • Exhibit2Postburn
    Acrylic hoods can melt, though the artifacts inside may be okay.
  • Fire moves up, but it also moves toward any vent; consequently our table setting was not charred.
  • Even in the most destructive fires, metals and ceramics are likely to retain their forms and may be worth conserving.

If you’ve missed the last 5 of these unique workshops and want to join in the fun, our next (and probably last) fire recovery workshop will be in Fayetteville, April 13, 2015. You can register by following this link.

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About collectionsconversations

This blog will contain posts from the C2C project staff on a variety of topics related to collections care and disaster preparedness. Enjoy the posts and let us know if you would like additional information or have a topic you would like for us to address.

Posted on December 2, 2014, in Connecting to Collections, disaster preparedness, fire, workshops and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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