Why Data Recovery is More Complex for Fire and Water Damaged Devices

What would you do if your hard drive suffers fire or water damage? In most cases of fire or water damage, users believe that the storage device has become useless and data is lost permanently. It’s true that fire or water damage often causes irreversible damage to the storage media but possibly data can be recovered. However, unlike normal data recovery cases, fire and liquid damage are some of the worst-case scenarios for data recovery. Every year, thousands of hard drives, personal computers, servers, and laptops suffer fire damage. Natural disasters like floods can also damage storage media and wipe out valuable data. Sometimes, the hardware may also get severely damaged due to an electrical fire that spread quickly. In all these possible scenarios, the real challenge is recovering your data from fire or water damaged device.

When a hard drive or any other device catches fire, most people put the hardware in water to extinguish the fire. This not only causes fire and water damage but also extreme temperature change which results in causing further damage. If your data storage device is totally (or even partially) destroyed in a catastrophic event then data recovery can be quite complex. As compared to other cases of data loss such as simply dropping the device or malware attack, thermal damage requires more in-depth recovery techniques. So, let’s find out the effects of heat and water on your device and why it is difficult to retrieve data from burned drives.

Thermal Damage

Typically, a normal hard drive can withstand temperature ranging from 40° Fahrenheit (5° Celsius) to 140° Fahrenheit (60° Celsius). If the temperature exceeds the maximum heat limit, damage, and data loss can occur. Besides external factors, your hard drive can also overheat if you run it for a long period. Other factors that lead to overheating include blocked airflow or damaged fans. However, of all these possible causes, the worst cause of thermal damage is fire. Burning results in melting the components of the drives and extinguishing that fire cause further water and chemical damage to the internal parts of a hard drive.

Data Recovery from a Fire Damaged Hard Drive

A fire accident causes mechanical damage and can lead to reducing the space between the read/write heads and the platters. It is also possible that overheating results in damaging the controller board’s firmware chip. All these thermal damages cause data loss and render the device useless. However, hard drives are packed in an enclosure that provides some degree of protection to the drive. Even if the plastic components and drive electronics are melted, an experienced data recovery engineer can recover lost data.

Recovering data from burned devices are more complicated and take several hours because the damaged components need to be replaced first. A professional data recovery specialist utilizes advanced techniques and can even retrieve files from a damaged RAID array that has been exposed to flames for hours in a server room. However, if the drive is damaged to the extent where its magnetic platters get heated up above Curie temperature, then the chances of data recovery reduce. When the hard drive gets damaged internally and the platter is melted it’s impossible to recover data on your own. In most cases, retrieving lost files from fire-damaged hard drives can be difficult, but not impossible. A data recovery expert can repair the drive and retrieve maximum data from it.

The chances of recovering data depend on factors such as the extent of damage and the time duration of the heat/water exposure. The complexity of the job will also depend on whether the hard drive or computer was directly or indirectly exposed to the fire. The damage gets more severe when the device gets exposed to water from a fire sprinkler system or water pressure by Firefighters.

Water Damage

Often people accidentally drop their mobile phones into pools or water buckets. Even if the phone comes with a water-resistant feature, it will suffer electronic damage when submerged in water and other liquids. Water spill or liquid submersion can damage your phone’s open ports like headphone jacks, speakers, and charging point. When water moves inside the device, it may not start correctly or simply fail to turn on. This happens because when any type of liquid gets inside the device, the internal components suffer short-circuit and corrosion that may lead to data loss. If water damage occurs due to flood, then dirt and other contaminants can also get into the drive that can damage the platter. When the water reaches the platters inside the drive, only a data recovery technician can help you get back your lost data.

Data Recovery from a Water Damaged Device

Whether it’s recovering data from a fire-burned device or water damaged media, these types of recoveries take a lot of effort and special tools that only experts have. The data recovery process involves cleaning the platter surfaces and imaging to make a copy of the data. In more severe cases where the casing gets contaminated from water or debris, the platters may need to get transferred into new clean housing. This process is extremely complex and that’s why fire and water damage data recovery cases take more time.