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Old 07-04-2019, 03:37 PM   #1
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1976 31' Sovereign
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Fire Recovery

ISO held determining my best course of action for a fire damaged '76 Sovereign. She was resting in my driveway at home, plugged into shore power, when out of nowhere smoke began billowing out of the A/C vent on the roof. We caught it in time to call the fire department, which successfully extinguished the fire, but not before the entire interior was melted and smoke damaged. The fire originated just behind the refrigerator, inside the access door, and was probably the result of an electrical short. This was not a LPG/Electric unit, (rather, a small apartment unit run on AC). This was a beautifully restored trailer and I am too attached to sell it for salvage.

I appreciate any opinions on recovery options. At this time, I believe all interior skins and insulation will have to be taken out and the unit will need all new wiring, before restoration begins. I have started by taking out large pieces that could be easily removed. There does not appear to be any structural damage. to the frame. My main concern is whether the subfloor and all insulation beneath will have to come out. I'm also afraid I will not be able to get the smoke damage cleaned up and the odor removed. Ultimately, I need to know if this is even worth the effort. Any advice is greatly appreciated.
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Old 07-04-2019, 05:09 PM   #2
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Holy guacamole! Well, that sucks mightily--sorry for your troubles!

On the one hand, I might say that if you have full coverage insurance and can get it covered, then go that route and start over.

On the other hand, you aren't really any worse off than many folks who buy neglected 70's era trailers that have sat rotting in a field for the last 40 years. You probably have a complete rebuild on your hands, but people do it all the time--at least the subfloor looks pretty stable. There are a couple of scorch marks visible on the exterior skin, that would suggest the heat was so intense that it at least ruined the temper of the alloy sheet. But these are flat sheets, and can be replaced--it is mostly time, not so much money, if you are doing the work yourself.

Question is, are you doing the work yourself?

good luck!
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Old 07-04-2019, 05:24 PM   #3
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Call a professional like ServiceMaster, that does fire restoration for a living. See what products and techniques they use.
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Old 07-04-2019, 06:08 PM   #4
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So sorry this happened to you. But things are the way they are and all you can do is move forward.

What about water damage? Has the subfloor been damaged? Or the outer skin?

Just about anything can be fixed if you have the time, energy and money.

Wishing you the best as you decide what to do next?
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Old 07-04-2019, 06:11 PM   #5
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Take the money and run.

Life is short.

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Old 07-04-2019, 06:43 PM   #6
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I'd be worried more about heat damage, what it has done to the integrity of the aluminum. Very little of the interior looks to be salvageable. If you have good insurance coverage and things look good in your favor it would probably be best to cut your losses and find another dream trailer, if you have a real attachment to this one, either lots of time and some money, or very little time and tons of money (for someone else to do it) practically anything is rebuildable, but you're looking at some reskinning, rewiring everything, insulation, floors, and who knows what else once you open it up plus all the fun pretty stuff. Sorry for your loss! I'm glad they responded fast and you didn't have it spread to your home and nobody was hurt!
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Old 07-04-2019, 07:43 PM   #7
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I 6hink you have a total loss claim. I do not believe that your unit is salvageable.
Man I hate to see it.
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Old 07-05-2019, 10:20 AM   #8
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No insurance coverage....and yes, I will be doing the work myself.
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Old 07-05-2019, 02:31 PM   #9
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Sorry to hear that.



Good luck,

Peter
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Old 07-07-2019, 08:53 AM   #10
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Dear MCartwright:

That’s a bad way to have a hot Saturday night!!

We recently restored a fire-damaged Airstream to serviceability. Ours was in an RV storage facility that caught fire. Our trailer, which we call “The Phoenix”, took heat from the outside, in. That’s a bit different than your trailer, which took heat from the inside out.

While the situations are different, our experience may be useful to you. Our trailer was heavily smoke-damaged because the fans, skylight, and air conditioner failed (melted), allowing heavy smoke inside. After cleaning we found everything inside functional except the ceiling wiring—that was toast, literally. Our story is here: http://www.airforums.com/forums/f516...ud-131783.html

I have looked at your photos closely.

I think your wiring is mostly unaffected. The wiring is attached to the trailer’s outer skin, so was protected from heat by both the interior skin and the insulation. The places where it might be damaged would be: 1) where the interior skin burned away; 2) above the refrigerator compartment where the fire started and burned hotter. You have pulled the center ceiling panel, so you can easily inspect the wiring running by the refer compartment for degradation of the insulation.

Heat rises so, since the floor looks sound, everything below it should be OK. Axles, brakes, tires, holding tanks and such. You might try putting 12V on the running light circuit to see if they light up. You might be pleasantly surprised.

And the exterior shell looks sound, too. Yes, you have a couple spots outside the refer compartment that got hot enough to ruin the exterior finish, but the metal itself appears OK. The shell provides rigidity to the assembled trailer and you did not have enough heat to compromise this.

So you are good if you want to try a rebuild. I would suggest removing the interior skin and innards completely followed by a good cleaning. Then you will have all the wiring exposed so you will know what you are up against. Quite a few Airstreams are stripped to this point for repurposing for commercial purposes. So you will be at a decision point: do you really want to restore this unit at what cost of time and money? Or do you recover a few $$$ by punting it to someone for repurposing?

If you decide to restore it, you can now run wiring for any upgrades you want to make—solar, HDMI, CAT 5 cabling, extra appliances, whatever strikes your fancy. And you can reskin the interior with sheet aluminum—like how Flying Cloud interiors are done—which will make a lighter, brighter space. My daughter and SIL will be doing this with their 1973 31’ Sovereign.

You can make a truly unique trailer if you have the time, money, and interest.

All the best.
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Old 07-08-2019, 04:27 AM   #11
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. . .
You can make a truly unique trailer if you have the time, money, and interest.
. . .
How many total labor hours would you anticipate . . . to bring this Airstream fully back to life?

Thanks,

Peter
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Old 07-09-2019, 12:04 AM   #12
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Thanks Burnside. I blew through all your postings on the Phoenix, just after my fire, and it inspired me. I’m still concerned with water/soot damage under the subfloor, and the prospects for removing smoke damage. Even with removal of all inner skin and insulation, doesn’t the insulation under the subfloor require attention.

Thanks again!
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Old 07-09-2019, 12:32 AM   #13
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sorry for your loss(maybe) i lost my 64 overlander to a fire in my driveway. it melted yhr last 5 ft of the trailer, melted the windows and gutted the insides. mine was not rebuildable. best wishes on you going forward. kurt
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Old 07-10-2019, 12:59 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by MCartwright View Post
I’m still concerned with water/soot damage under the subfloor, and the prospects for removing smoke damage. Even with removal of all inner skin and insulation, doesn’t the insulation under the subfloor require attention.
I don't think so. Heat and smoke rise so smoke contact below the floor should have been minimal. Assuming your 76 is similar to our 73, the biggest penetration thru the floor is under the galley. Our Univolt was located there, so all of the penetrations for 120 wiring into the Univolt and 120 and 12V back out throughout the trailer, plus the plumbing penetrations for hot, cold, and drain water were here. A visual inspection here should give you an idea of smoke intrusion below floor level. Other places to look will be the other plumbing penetrations--bathroom, shower, clean water tank fill, but these will be harder to inspect.

With the Phoenix, smoke intruded when the skylight and Fantastic Fans melted. Then the Fire Department threw on the water, so steam followed. Our trailer wasn't actually in the fire, but since the building was closed (until the fire burned thru the building's roof) the smoke and heat were trapped inside, melting our roof-top goodies. The trailer interior was relatively cool, so smoke and then steam condensed which is why there are vertical streaks in the soot in our pre-clean photos of the trailer interior. It all cleaned up. Not perfectly, but enough that a casual visitor won't spot the remaining evidence unless we point it out.

One factor regarding odor for the Phoenix, and probably for you, is plastic combustion gases. Most plastics are readily penetrated by similar volatilized compounds, so when smoke from burning plastics billows over un-burned plastic the latter absorb these gases, leading to a long term odor problem. The worst item for us was the Dometic refrigerator. Our trailer had been stored for winter with, per mfgr instructions, the refrigerator and freezer doors ajar. It was a couple of years before the fire-caused odors dropped below perceptible levels in the freezer and refer compartments but all better now after keeping pie plates full of baking soda in both when not in use.

For you the floor covering and other plastic items may harbor odors. These odors will dissipate over time and the harder the plastic the less combustion odors will have been absorbed. So most items will lose the odor they have picked up. It took awhile, but our accordion doors no longer have an odor. The curtains reeked but professional dry-cleaning made them like new.

In your one photo the galley is still intact. If that doesn't clean up well enough to use, keep it, and any other cabinetry, for making templates for whatever replacements you come up with. You or anyone you commission to make interior components will love to have those templates instead of working from scratch.

I hope these additional comments are helpful. Keep the faith!!
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Old 07-10-2019, 08:46 AM   #15
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I would not assume that the insulation in the belly escaped smoke damage. We had a house fire a couple of years ago, and the smoke remediation was mind-blowing.

Suggest taking some insulation out ASAP and put it in an airtight ziplock etc. bag. Store the bag carefully for a week or so, then open it, stick your nose way inside, and inhale deeply.

Chance are good you will smell smoke!

Good luck,

Peter
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Old 07-10-2019, 02:00 PM   #16
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Peter, I'm sorry to hear you have personally experienced fire damage.

When we started on the Phoenix we researched post fire remediation, and what we found centered on residential housing, not RVs. We found ozone generators were extensively used, so we tried one and found it amazingly effective at eliminating odor short term, but the odor would come back. This lead to cleaning every surface we could reach, exposed or not, which really helped. Also, ozone attacks most plastics and rubber compounds so there is a hidden cost to ozone use.

MCartwright, from the photos the floor looks like it got really sooty, so smoke may very well have gotten into the under-floor insulation exposed by the floor penetrations. If ventilation is provided odors fade on a half-life basis, which brings us to Peter's previous question about the time required to bring the trailer back. It took us 5 months to do what we did, and we were not faced with rebuilding the trailer interior. Given our skill level, or lack thereof, we would have taken a year or more to replace the interior, and in that time odor issues will fade.

MCartwright, if your trailer was my trailer, I would clean up the interior components and decide if I could use them piece by piece. Not having more than basic woodworking skills and tools, I would not be able to replicate the cabinetry myself and going custom would be too expensive. So I would turn to Airstream Classifieds for the interior furnishings needed to refurbish the trailer--quite a few people have advertised part or all of a 70's Sovereign interior over the years so with luck and patience you would 'find' most everything.

If the floor was soft and creaky by the shower, front door, and such, I would consider a shell off, which would allow replacement of deteriorated flooring, smoky under-floor insulation, and the linoleum. But doing so would increase the cost, complexity, and time-to-completion of your project.

Only you can decide if the reward of bringing your trailer back to life justifies the time, cost, and commitment required. Speaking only for myself, we bought the Phoenix committed to doing what it took, but also knowing that what it took was elbow grease and "remove and replace". If we had been faced with an interior "redo" and possibly a "shell-off" beyond what we did, we would have passed. But we did not have an emotional attachment, either, so our situations are not comparable.

Sincerely,
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Old 07-14-2019, 10:12 PM   #17
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Hans - the subfloor remains solid, although I’m not certain of conditions beneath. Firewater probably penetrated the subfloor and may have contaminated insulation beneath. My big concern before moving forward is removing the smoke damage, and whether this will require new sub flooring.

Thanks.
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Old 07-14-2019, 10:47 PM   #18
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Hans - the subfloor remains solid, although I’m not certain of conditions beneath. Firewater probably penetrated the subfloor and may have contaminated insulation beneath. My big concern before moving forward is removing the smoke damage, and whether this will require new sub flooring.



Thanks.


If I were you, I'd gut the interior and then evaluate the smell situation later once you've cleaned out the stink above the floor.

It's easy to jump into a big project, it's harder to work your way out.

I have a 75 Sovereign that I'm going to gut, the fixtures are in fair condition, I'd let you have everything but the interior skins for free, they're in New Mexico.
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Old 07-15-2019, 03:11 AM   #19
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Hans - the subfloor remains solid, although I’m not certain of conditions beneath. Firewater probably penetrated the subfloor and may have contaminated insulation beneath. My big concern before moving forward is removing the smoke damage, and whether this will require new sub flooring.
. . .
There are fire-remediation products for "locking in" any smoke damage in the subfloor, which you might be able to further "lock in" with a good coating of WEST [or similar] epoxy IMO. Of course, this will not remediate any smokey smell on the bottom of the subfloor, or in the belly insulation. Per Post #15 . . . suggest getting some of that insulation in a Ziploc bag for further testing.

Good advice here IMO: [emphasis added]
Quote:
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If I were you, I'd gut the interior and then evaluate the smell situation later once you've cleaned out the stink above the floor.

It's easy to jump into a big project, it's harder to work your way out.
. . .
Good luck,

Peter
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