Antique Trader

Fire Protect Your Collectibles


By April Hann Lanford

April Hann Lanford, Principal Artifact Services, Artmill Group Art conservation and fine framing expert

April Hann Lanford, Principal of Artifact Services

Fire Protect Your Collectibles

By April Hann Lanford

What to do if your valuable collectibles are threatened by fire.

This year has brought on elevated temperatures and created an environment susceptible to wildfires. Fires have devastated California and Colorado and are currently forecasted to worsen.

With any fire situation, the best approach is to evacuate items to safety beforehand. You may, however, face limitations of time, packing materials, and secured, secondary space to relocate items from your collection.

I have assisted in the evacuation and recovery of fire-damaged collections over the past fifteen years. If you need to evacuate and need to leave your collection behind, here are a few recommendations to help protect your pieces, and assist with potential recovery in the future:


Artifact Services Antique Trader Protect your collectibles from fire damage, smoke exposure and water damage Artifact services Chicago, April Hann Lanford

A piece of artist paper acted as a barrier against soot that partially protected the sheet below. Covering items before evacuating can be an effective measure to reduce exposure.

– Maintain an updated collection inventory and have a digital copy available to share. If needed, a digital copy makes it easy to share pertinent information with your insurance broker, adjuster, and specialists during the evacuation or recovery process.

-Identify 3-5 priority items for evacuation or immediate recovery.

-Relocate items to interior rooms, away from exterior walls, windows, and exterior doors. Outdoor smoke can infiltrate windows and seams. Windows are also vulnerable to breakage, which could cause further damage to adjacent pieces.

-Items should be elevated off the floor by three inches or higher. Elevating items prevent a piece from direct contact with standing water if water is used to put out a fire.

-Photograph or video the collection for future reference. If recording video, walk through the house, open drawers, cabinets, closets to document their contents. This is not only helpful for antiques and fine art but also will aid with other items in the event you have to make a claim.

-Designate a trusted local contact. This person can access and check on your home and collection in the event you are not able to.

Cover items to create an additional barrier. While there is not a universal fireproof material that works in all situations, having an additional cover such as heavy plastic sheeting or a tarp, can not only help protect from water from overhead but will also reduce the exposure to atmospheric soot. In the past, I have observed pieces of paper and cardboard protecting the surface of a piece, which protected the work, and simplified the resulting treatment.

Ideally, this last-minute prep is enough to prevent damage, and recovery efforts are not needed

The following are a few tips that I always keep in mind when recovering compromised collections after a fire loss.

Safety first: Check with local authorities to confirm that it is safe to return. Your personal safety is most important. In addition to the structural instability of buildings and homes, there is also the risk of flash floods and mudslides that might follow widespread fires.

Proper PPE: Before entering, make sure you are wearing the proper safety equipment for the environment. Heavy soled shoes, gloves and a mask are an absolute must.

Water damage art restoration Fire damage art restoration Smoke damage art restoration Water damage furniture repair Fire damage furniture repair Smoke damage furniture repair Water damage furniture restoration Fire damage furniture restoration Smoke damage antique restoration Water damage antique repair Fire damage antique repair Smoke damage antique repair Water damage antique restoration Fire damage antique restoration Smoke damage antique restoration Chubb specialty contents Chubb claims provenance preservation disaster preparedness art rescue art disaster response chicago conservation chicago conservatory the center of conservation the center art claims art collection recovery the art conservatory Art rescue Emergency response Art recovery Contents experts Specialty contents Chubb claims provider Chubb framing expert Chubb art claims expert Servpro art claims Art contents Art restoration Water damage art repair Fire damage art repair Smoke damage art repair mold remediation mold restoration art restoration water 1/9 debris flow, montecito california, santa barbara antique restoration, hurricane laura art restoration, antique restoration, hurricane Marco antique restoration services. hurricane art restoration, red salmon complex fire, apple fire riverside, lake fire, los angeles restoration, loyalton fire art cleaning river fire, monterey ca dome fire, san bernandino CA Chubb art claims onsite specialty contents cleaning SCU lightening complex soot cleaning August complex, mendocino art restoration LNU lightning complex antique restoration LNU lightning complex art restoration services North complex fire art cleaning, CZU lightning complex, san mateo firebutte, tehama, glenn art cleaning

Antique ceiling tiles delaminating and falling from the ceiling are not only dangerous but are at risk of further damage, and potential loss, if recovery crews are unaware of their importance in this historic home.

Take your time: Remember that you are working in a compromised environment. There may be limited lighting, the structure will likely be compromised, there will be broken glass and debris to navigate on the floor. The items you are handling might also be compromised and require even greater attention when moving.

Be mindful of mold: Even though you are dealing with fire damage, items were likely exposed to water, and there may also be mold in the environment.

Remember to document: Upon arrival, document the space and collection with photos and video. This will help in a variety of ways: to track items, to identify the scope of damage as well as establish a timeline in the recovery process.

Prioritize: Create an inventory and identify priority items for care. Timing is critical during the aftermath of a fire. It is important to focus on the most important items first before proceeding with the rest of the collection.

Wear gloves: A simple rule is to always wear gloves when handling items exposed to soot. The oil on your fingers can cross-link with the soot and further embed the soot into the surface of the piece.

Handle with care: It’s always best to minimize the handling of items as much as possible. Soot is acidic and abrasive. Exposure to heat can also cause further instability to a surface. The more a piece is handled, the greater the risk of further damage.

Contact a conservator: The sooner damaged items can be addressed, the better the results for treatment. The longer soot is on a surface the harder it can be to successfully remove.

There are many variables to consider when safeguarding collections and recovering items after a fire loss. While a lot of collectors do not have access to offsite storage to safely evacuate their items when a wildfire looms, these preventive steps can go a long way. These days, even a sixty-second video walkthrough of a collection can significantly help with recovery efforts in the future.

During the aftermath when local resources for response and recovery are flooded, taking the proactive measures listed above can significantly impact the successful recovery of your collection.

The most important lesson to remember is to never assume that a piece is a loss. The field of conservation offers a combination of traditional techniques and modern technology, which can yield a lot of successful options for the treatment of a piece. The sooner an item can be addressed, the better the results.


Click here to view original article that was published in Antique Trader.

Fire Protect Your Collectibles, by April Hann Lanford



Our collection of educational articles about

custom framing, collection care, and emergency response are updated regularly.

Click on each topic below for a menu of corresponding articles.

light dusting of antique gilded frame. Gilded frame. antique frame conservation. Frame repair. Picture frame repair. Frame restoration. Antique custom frames Gold frame repair Antique restoration antique conservation services chicago

Collection Care Articles

By April Hann Lanford

Our collection of educational articles provides an introduction to many topics about the preservation and conservation of fine art, antiques, and fine furniture.

Topics are often written as a result of questions provided by our clients. 


Framing Articles

By April Hann Lanford

There is a lot that goes into the design and fabrication of an archival custom frame. Whether a minimal TIG welded aluminum frame, acrylic vitrine, or a custom carved wood, 22k gilded antique revival frame, each design can have a variety of approaches and materials.


Emergency Care Articles

By April Hann Lanford

Our emergency care articles are a helpful introduction to how to prevent damage through preventative measures or art and antique collections.  When a disaster strikes, prompt response and taking the right steps can mitigate further damage.  


Antique Trader Articles

By April Hann Lanford

Visit our collection of articles that have been published in Antique Trader.


For more than 60 years Antique Trader has been inspiring, informing, and entertaining the collecting community with timely...

A division of Artmill Group Hand carved picture frames Custom picture framing Museum quality services Insurance claims support April Hann Lanford Appraisal Valuation Onsite repair Specialty contents Storm recovery and rescue Provenance care Water restoration art, antiques, furniture Art recovery Painting repair Paper conservation Furniture restoration Fine art doctor repair shop in chicago Gold leaf frames Finished corner Seamless by design Regency Fine art conservation Seaberg Armand Lee Gilding Museum framing Art collection support Frederics Baker Husar


By April Hann Lanford

A selection of Artifact’s most recent projects highlighting our conservation and preservation work. We present each unique story describing the conservation process from reviewing the history, cause of loss, and condition to the steps of the treatment.

Glossry of terms, Art terms, art glossary, art definitions, art vocabulary


A collection of art and conservation terms along with makers and firms compiled into a glossary and highlighted throughout our website for reference.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Conveniently receive

collection care tips and project stories

directly to your inbox

We are available to assist you

Get in Touch

(312) 344-0331

Main Location

840 N. Milwaukee Ave, Chicago IL 60642

Mon-Fri:  9am - 5:30pm
Sat:  10am-4pm
Sun:  Closed

Complimentary parking is available in the loading zone in front of the building

We can also serve you by appointment at our other locations in the Chicagoland area.

Additional Locations

Schiller Park Highland Park  •  Lake Forest  •  Lincoln Park  Nashville, TN

Copyright 2024, Artifact Services, LLC | An Artmill Group Company