When we become involved with claims related to fire-damaged specialist contents, many instances highlight how the full extent of affected items has not been considered or realised.

It is often the case that specialist contents have very visible and noticeable damage, and so consequently those are the items we are asked to assess and provide recommendations for.

When we start to understand the incident, the situation, and the scale of the occurrence, we can then start to consider and assess the true extent of the specialist contents that could be affected.

One recent incident provides a perfect example when we were asked to undertake an on-site assessment for a claim affecting a high-value painting that had been affected by a fire isolated to one room in the home.

Upon inspection, the painting was indeed visibly affected. However, when we began to understand the location and the incident, it was evident that several other artworks and specialist contents in the same room had been contaminated with soot and smoke. These, while not showing significant signs of visible damage, would still require attention.

In addition, we also observed vents that would have transferred the smoke and soot into the neighbouring hallway. Again, when tracking this route, we could see that artworks on paper were contaminated with soot and smoke, the smell of which was very much apparent.

While specialist contents with visible signs of fire, smoke or soot damage needing treatment are clear to see, it is also easy to not consider or contemplate those artworks indirectly affected. Such contents still have contamination and/or smoke odour that need to be taken care of.

Smoke or soot damage can be difficult to see on artworks, particularly if they are not directly impacted, if the incident was relatively recent, or the painting uses naturally dark pigments.

When attending such incidents, it is important to consider all items in the room where smoke or soot damage has occurred as this is difficult to contain. In addition, understanding the ventilation systems to see if neighbouring rooms or hallways may also need to be taken into consideration is vital.

This claim resulted in many other paintings, works on paper, and specialist contents requiring care. Some required light decontamination treatment only, while others needed more focused attention.

If left, the acidic nature of smoke and soot can affect artworks in various ways. For oil paintings, soot and smoke particles can embed into the varnish layer, causing a reaction and discolouration, resulting in issues going forward. For works on paper, it can cause discolouration over time. The odour is something that would not leave fully without proper treatment.

If left untreated, it risks the visual enjoyment of such artworks and potentially their assigned value.

If you are ever in doubt as to whether specialist contents such as artworks, whether oil paintings, works on paper or more unusual pieces, have been affected, it is best to have them checked. We can certainly assist either by undertaking on-site assessments, advising over the phone or email in such circumstances.