Home fires can be devastating, and it takes little to no time for smoke and flames to damage a home.

This isn’t hyperbole – it only takes five minutes for a residence to be engulfed in flames once a fire ignites. More times than not, this creates unfortunate damage at small- to mid-size residences due to extreme heat and the rapid spread of smoke. These combined components of damage take much longer to repair and return people back to their homes after a catastrophic fire event because smoke damage is more detrimental than the flames themselves. According to www.ready.gov, it only takes minutes for thick black smoke to fill a home, leaving residents in need of a knowledgeable restoration company who can quickly assess the damage and prescribe a solution.

Zolman Restoration’s Role

In May 2018, Zolman Restoration was engaged by an insurance partner to bring our contents and full-service restoration specialists to a residential site in Sterling Heights, Michigan, that had experienced severe smoke and fire damage.

Our disaster response was deployed to address a fire ignited by an electrical defect in the detached garage of a 1,100-square-foot home. Due to heavy winds at the time of the fire, and combined with extreme heat from the flames, the damage spread to the family home, creating exterior damage to the siding from the flames and completely filling the home with smoke and soot. The garage and the contents inside suffered a total loss. Inside the home, every item was compromised by the smoke and needed to be examined.

Our team was on site the next morning after the fire department had completed their work, ready to assess damage and determine next steps to begin cleanup.

disaster cleanup


Structural work is difficult to complete without contents being addressed and removed first, and this home presented a difficult scenario to navigate around an excessive amount of contents and the amount of cleanup that needed to be done. Everything the couple had collected throughout their lives was stored in the house, creating logistical challenges because of the great amount of items present in the property. The attic, basement, and individual rooms were organized, but packed with everything from delicate china and fragile ornaments to decorations for every holiday. The size of the house at only 1,100 square feet posed a problem, and because it was filled with so many items, only four or five team members could safely work in the home each day.

Throughout the basement, many items were stored in plastic totes, making it an unfavorable transition from the home out to the truck, where they would be transported to our facility for restoration. Each soot-covered tote presented its own challenge – our team needed to go through and individually examine, wrap, and inventory each item. This took an extended amount of time with the sheer quantity of items and extensive amount of small, fragile items in need of extra care with packaging. Additionally, the homeowners were initially hesitant to let the team process their items due to the fear of losing cherished valuables.

disaster cleanup


The on-site Zolman Restoration team members were in constant communication with the residents to ensure they were involved in all decisions throughout the process, creating a personal relationship with them as they were on site each day with the team. We went through our processes and procedures to thoroughly prepare the site by securing the premises, evaluating additional partners specializing in air cleaning and quality services, appliances, and electronics. Then we mapped out the priority focus areas for removing items and beginning restoration work. Over two and a half weeks, our team sorted through all the contents, taking detailed pictures of everything, including total loss items, and sharing our findings with the homeowners throughout the process.

disaster cleanup

With soot covering everything throughout the home, all individual items were examined. Respecting the wishes of the homeowners to careful handle all items even if they were written off as a total loss, our team went above and beyond to ensure sentimental items were taken special care of. To restore the structural aspects of the property to pre-loss condition, the siding on the back end of the house nearest the garage was replaced, along with an install of a new HVAC system due to extreme heat damage melting the original.

disaster cleanup


Approximately 1,000 boxes of contents were removed from the home in a one-and-a-half-week span. From the initial inspection to soot and smoke cleanup and the restoration of contents and furniture, the entire process took a total of five months before the house was deemed livable and the family could return home.

A fire can start in an instant, but the costs for rehabilitation are significant. For this 1,100 square foot home, the cost of this job totaled around $150,000 for all the components involved with personal property, including contents restoration, dry cleaning, window treatments, appliances, electronics, and more.

disaster cleanup

Our team regularly encounters this type of work, and we were prepared to address every aspect. With every job being unique, we found it critical to know how to effectively communicate with the homeowners to ensure they felt their needs were met every step of the way, including their home and its contents, and their wellbeing.