Recovering Data from a Fire-Damaged Drive: What You Should Know
Hard drive damage due to fire may not be the most common cause of data loss, but is definitely one of the most difficult to recover from. While the physical or mechanical damage to an HDD alone can be devastating in many ways, the hard drive chamber, hard drive assembly (HDA), also often gets heavily contaminated with water as a result of firefighting. Finally, in addition to the moisture affecting the platter lubrication layers, and potential oxidation, water from a fire hose is usually cold, which in turn involves abrupt temperature changes from hot to cold that can lead to deformation of the chassis and drive platters. Taken together, these factors make recovering data from a burned-out disk an incredibly difficult task, and sometimes even mean irreversible loss of important data.
While we hope that you are reading this article solely out of curiosity and wish that you would never have to face a fire-damaged disk situation in practice, here are some recommendations on how to mitigate the effects of fire and rescue as much data as possible.
Do Not Power It On
Even if the hard disk seems externally undamaged, you shouldn’t rush to check its operation and turn it on. In addition to the threat of overheating the drive due to the significant increase in room temperature in case of fire, you also risk damaging the platters which may result in additional damage that is beyond repair. This is especially important to note if the heads were stuck over the platters.
Do Not Open Its Casing
Under no circumstances should you attempt to open the case of your HDD by yourself to gauge the extent of the damage caused. In most cases, the inside will look fine unless the fire has been burning for a long period of time. The rubber that normally seals HDD is likely to turn into burnt dust — and once you open the casing, this dust will float around inside the confined space and contaminate the platters
Hard drive enclosures are usually pretty good at protecting the platters to a certain extent. However, while fire itself won’t affect the platters much, the heat it generates can demagnetize the magnets inside the hard drive. For conventional magnets, magnets quickly lose their magnetic properties once a certain temperature threshold is reached (176 degrees F, or 80 degrees C). No doubt the magnets on your hard drive can withstand a little more heat, but the actual temperature where they enter the danger zone is unknown; regardless, heat is the culprit here.
We have had numerous situations in our practice where the inside of the hard drive body looked just fine, but the magnets, which are part of the HSA, were completely stripped of their magnetic properties. If this happens, the plates would also become demagnetized, which in turn makes attempting to recover data a pointless endeavor.
Do Not Try To Fix The Problem Yourself
Unlike their solid-state counterparts, which rely on technology that allows them to be much more resistant to physical impact, hard drives have a very fragile internal structure that can fail if tampered with ineptly. While you can try to fix a number of logical errors yourself with the help of special software, professional data recovery requires a ton of in-depth knowledge and certified equipment that make it possible to carry out repairs without the risk of aggravating the situation through an accidental scratch on the platter or contamination of its surface.
How to Rescue Important Files From a Burned Disk
Unfortunately, in this case, you cannot do more than take it to a professional data recovery specialist. And when you do, don’t hesitate to ask them if they have any experience with fire-damaged drives to make sure that the data on your hard drive doesn’t become irrecoverable due to ineptitude.
At SALVAGEDATA, we have been successfully recovering files from fire-damaged hard drives since 2003. With more than a decade of experience and a proven track record, having thousands of hours spent on extremely delicate repair work, our talented technicians can assist you with the recovery of data from the damage of any complexity, including multiple logical problems with the disk, as well as the consequences of fire, water, or natural disasters.
We value our reputation highly, so we offer our customers a 100% No Data, No Charge guarantee in addition to a free evaluation of their device. You can contact us at any convenient time by leaving a request with all the necessary details about your device and the circumstances of the failure, or simply visit a nearby office for a personal consultation.