Can Data Be Recovered from a Fire Damaged Hard Drive?

Fire accidents are common not just in California but throughout the world. A number of things may go wrong in your home or office that could ignite the fire. We would never wish this happens with anyone, but life is unpredictable. A short-circuit in the office or accident in the kitchen could set your building on fire and that would lead to loss of property- including your laptop and data stored in it. Every year thousands of personal computers, laptops, and servers get fire damaged and users suffer catastrophic data loss. In most cases, insurance helps in rebuilding lives but what about the lost data?

It is well known that extreme heat is the worst enemy of hard drives because it damages the sensitive parts inside the drive. Computers and laptops even have internal fans to dissipate heat and maintain a normal temperature. But when a fire breaks, the temperature rises suddenly, and in the worst case, flames even reach your hard drive. And when that happens, all your critical data is lost. Now, you may ask if it is possible to recover data from a fire-damaged hard drive. When looking at a fire-damaged hard drive, it is easy to believe that your data is lost forever. However, before you decide to throw away your drive and lose all hope, it’s wise to contact a data recovery professional.

Can Data Be Recovered from a Fire Damaged Hard Drive?

What Not to Do With A Fire Damaged Hard Drive?

If your hard drive has got damaged in a fire accident and you don’t have a data backup, then you have only one option- find a certified data recovery service provider. However, if you really want to recover your lost data, make sure to avoid DIY tricks. Any attempt to recover data by hit-and-trial methods and half-baked knowledge could only worsen the situation. To avoid causing further damage, here is what you should never do:

  • Never put your burnt hard disk in the freezer
  • Avoid using data recovery software that could overwrite data
  • Never dismantle or try to fix the hard disk on your own
  • Avoid booting your burnt hard drive

 

Is It Possible To Recover Data From A Fire Damaged Hard Drive?

HDDs consist of platters that store data, a spindle motor that spins the platter, and an actuator that moves the read/write arm. The platters are fairly durable but can withstand a certain temperature range before they begin to warp, bubble or melt. Beneath these platters, sits the printed circuit board (PCB) at the bottom of your drive. When soot, smoke, or other contaminants get inside the drive, it causes damages to these components. Recovering data from fire-damaged hard drives depends on the extent of damage, temperature, duration of exposure, and additional contamination. Depending on how long a drive is exposed to high temperature and the extent of damage to the PCB or platter from fire or the water determines if data recovery is possible.

Data Recovery from a Fire Damaged Hard Drive

Recovering data from a burned HDD isn’t simply about opening the drive, removing the platters, and transferring them to another hard drive. The process of recovering data from a fire-damaged hard drive begins with diagnosis. A data recovery engineer will evaluate your device in a cleanroom to determine the extent of the damage. The expert will check whether the drive is charred or melted. It is also important to find out if the manufacturer sticker on the hard drive is still intact.

The process of data recovery becomes complicated as the drive gets exposed to over 200 degrees Celsius temperature for a prolonged period. Suppose, a laptop got exposed to over 300 degrees Celsius in a house fire and even caught some flames. Even if the drive’s inside didn’t get severely burned but it suffered extreme heat. So, it will become crucial to find out whether the platters and ROM chip of the drive has got damaged by the heat and flames. If the PCB (Printer Circuit Board) gets burnt beyond repair, the engineers will need to carefully clean it and read the information off the ROM chip. The process should take place in a specialized laboratory where the retrieved information is transferred to a donor PCB so that it becomes possible to clone most of the hard drives’ sectors for recovering lost data.

When fire breaks, most homes, and offices have fire sprinklers that help in extinguishing flames. The sprinkler system can be a lifesaver and may even help in bringing down the temperature to cool the computer. However, if water reaches inside the computer, it can cause additional water damage to a burned hard drive. But even in this case, a qualified data recovery engineer can recover your data before corrosion from water cause irreversible damage.

When water contaminates the hard drive’s inner chamber, it may affect the platter lubrication layers and cause oxidation. Moreover, when the firefighters use a hose to spray cold water for extinguishing flames, it also results in extreme temperature changes and that may lead to warping of the drive chassis and platters. So, if there is water inside the hard drive that has reached the platters, then the engineers would need to remove the platters and cleaned them with a proprietary solvent. The cleaned and dried platters are then transferred to a new hard drive and the Printed Circuit Board (PCB) is replaced in Class 100 ISO 5 Cleanroom.

Conclusion:

Recovering data from fire-damaged hard drives is complex but not impossible. Even if the information sticker on the hard drive is charred, an experienced professional can get the required information like the drive’s model, the serial number, and other parameters via the drive’s firmware access. The dust particles and foreign particles are then cleaned from the PCB to take readings and then it is replaced with a new one. The entire process is complicated and only an expert can handle fire-damaged media. To increase the chances of recovering your lost data, make sure to contact a data recovery service as soon as possible.