Fire is one of the most destructive forces in nature, which can be started in many ways, from lightning strikes, unattended cigarettes through to electrical faults. It is common for server rooms to have fire suppression systems, but even these are unable to prevent a big fire from causing severe damage. Outside a server room, there may only be fire extinguishers or a sprinkler system, only suitable for small fires.
Many companies will invest in a fireproof safe, the location of which should be close to an outside wall, and level with the ground. This enables the safe to be pulled free of the building in an emergency, and also keeps it from being in the hottest part of the fire, which is usually centrally located. These safes are only rated to a certain temperature, beyond which the contents will start suffering heat damage, which can easily melt the cases of backup tapes and the media itself.
Hard Drives May Survive
When a hard drive is located in a fire, the good news is that many survive the experience, and in some cases it is water damage from dowsing the fire which can cause the biggest complications. We have an article which explains how to proceed if you have, a water damaged computer.
The controller board on the drive may melt, and the chips will almost certainly be severely damaged, and smoke particles will probably infiltrate the drive internals. So even if the drive can be connected to a computer, it is advisable not to attempt this, as severe damage may occur which was not already present.
With external drives the case will usually melt, sometimes forming a protective cocoon around the disk. They will be prone to the same problems as any other hard disk, so it is best to send the entire unit still in the melted case for data recovery.
Fire Damaged Drive Recovery
A fire damaged hard drive requires thorough cleaning and rebuilding before it can be connected to a computer and powered up. Fortunately it is only the severest heat which can cause damage to the platters, the biggest danger being caused by the drive still running as the temperature rises and smoke particles increase. These conditions could lead to the read/write heads impacting with the surface of the platters, with the resulting damage ranging from minimal right through to total destruction.
Barring extreme damage, the chances of a successful data recovery from a fire damage hard drive is very high. It is important that when a hard drive is sent for recovery to indicate that it was involved in a fire, as some drives may not show any outward physical signs of damage. Also if the drive became wet as a result of firefighting, it is important that the drive is kept wet and sent in a sealed container.