Do fireproof bags really work? The short answer is yes, the longer one is a little bit more complicated. There are several factors which will determine how effective will your fireproof bag be, the contents of it, the thermal temperature and how long will the fireproof bag be actually fireproof during a prolonged fire.
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Do fireproof bags really work?
At some point doing your prepping you may realize that you could lose everything in an instant if a fire breaks out. Most of the items preppers usually hoard are not likely to be a fire hazard except for devices with batteries, ammunition, and fuel. Most sensible preppers do have a fairly large stockpile of ammunition, batteries and other electrical devices. You might think that the biggest fire hazard would be the ammunition but if you store this correctly you should not have a problem with them.
This is not the same for batteries especially rechargeable batteries, as these are made for somewhat constant use, once they are left uncharged for a long while all it takes is a small kinetic force or humidity to cause these to explode and catch on fire. The big threat comes from the additional supplies which in most cases are highly flammable, and yes even dried food or food in powdered form can fuel a fire, not to mention if you store fuel in the same room.
While as a prepper you should store fuel for your vehicle and generator make sure that this is in a well-ventilated room. You have probably heard this “well-ventilated room” phrase already but most preppers actually tend to ignore it and this will create a major fire hazard. It is very important that the room is well ventilated as fuel evaporates just like water, causing fumes which are highly flammable, basically, the air will catch on fire with the smallest spark.
I have seen some odd prepper setups in my life, like putting the gallons of water right on top, this way if there is a fire the water would extinguish it. Might be a good idea but the truth is that till the heat melts the plastic gallons or till the flames melt the plastic gallons the damage has been already done. Not to mention of the additional damage which the water will also do to your food stockpile and electrical devices.
How long do fireproof bags last in a fire
There will come a point where you have identified a list of items which will be vital in any SHTF situation such as documents, money and so on. Preppers usually hide these or store them in safes or in fireproof bags, this is a good idea but highly situational. The common misconception of fireproof bags is that anything you store in them will not be damaged by the fire and after the fire has been extinguished you can pick out the items from the fireproof bag and they have not sustained any damage.
The problem is which nobody is telling you that the fireproof bags and boxes do not survive a fire which has been going for hours. These bags are usually made to withstand fire for 30-120 minutes this is usually enough time for the fire department to extinguish the fire. But as a prepper who is preparing for some sorts of SHTF scenario and during the SHTF your house catches on fire the odds are that the Fire department will not be able to respond as fast as usual if at all.
In this case, you will probably just try to extinguish the fire by yourself if you have the means to it or you can wait for it to burn out. This could take from a couple of minutes to a couple of hours, and odds are your fireproof bag is long obliterated by the flames. Modern houses are somewhat fireproof, the big problem comes for your furniture and your stockpile of supplies.
How heat affects fireproof bags
Fire is not the only risk which will damage your items in your fireproof bags, the temperature is also a big factor. If you store any electrical devices in your fireproof bags they might be fine with higher temperatures for a couple of minutes, but for more prolonged exposure to high temperatures, any device containing a battery will explode. This is the last thing you want as these bags do not protect any items from damaging each other inside the bag.
While most fireproof manufacturers do claim that the internal temperature will be around 300 F for a 1500 F fire, the problem is that you have no idea how much heat will generate any particular fire. Depending on the house, how flammable the contents of the house are and how long will the items in your house feed the fire will be different from house to house and so will be the fire’s temperature.
Usually, people tend to store items which are valuable in these fireproof bags, by valuable I mean monetary value and not valuable because of logistics or even necessity. This means that people can store from electrical devices, guns, and ammo to documents. As I previously mentioned electrical devices are not safe to store in these bags in my personal opinion due to the heat. The same goes for anything containing gunpowder.
The average heat needed for gunpowder to ignite is around 867 F, this, of course, depends on how pure the gunpowder it is. There is a lot of synthetic gunpowder sold as real gunpowder, while these in most cases do the same job as the gunpowder they might have chemical compounds in them which ignite at lower Fahrenheit and you could end up in a disaster. The last thing you what while you are fighting a home on fire is random bullets to popping off.
Important documents are fairly safe to store in fireproof bags, as paper needs an average temperature to ignite on fire of around 470 F. But what nobody is telling you is do not put any plastic in these bags, as most valuable documents are in some form of plastic cover, these will melt at around 210 F and potentially destroy the contents of your fireproof bag.
How to buy a good fireproof bag
As fireproof bags will hold most of your important documents you need to make sure you get a high-quality one. Fireproof bags are a one time use only item, and if they fail at doing their job that one single time you will lose all of your items included in your fireproof bag. Prepare for the worst and expect the best, this way no matter how big the fire gets or how high temperatures it generates your items should be still safe.
External thermal resistance
While some fireproof bags can resist fires of up to 2500 F which is higher than your average temperature of a fire burning a house which is around 1500 F, there are some which only are resistant to fires of just a couple of hundred degrees (400-800F). Your goal should be to get one which has the highest external thermal resistance as possible, this way no matter how high or low the external temperatures get your documents and items will be still safe.
Internal thermal resistance
This will mostly depend on the items which you will store in your fireproof bags. If you only store documents in it you can buy a fireproof bag specialized in storing documents, but if in addition to your documents you will also include electronic devices with batteries or plastic components you need to take in consideration that these will melt at a much lower temperature of around 200 F. In case of batteries these might even explode or at best leak out acid which will damage your other items.
As these bags contain extremely valuable documents and items you will want to make sure that they can not be accessed by anybody else but by you. Not all fireproof bags come with this feature but if you are serious about keeping safe your documents not only from fire but also possible thieves than this is a must-have. In this case, my recommendation is to get a fireproof box instead of a fireproof bag, even if these bags come with a security feature such as a master lock they can still be opened with a simple knife.
Your fireproof bag should be spacious enough to house your largest documents or items, so before buying one make sure you measure your largest item and purchase accordingly. It is also wise to keep in mind that you might add additional items to your bag with time, so make sure it has some extra space for them.
Best material for fireproof bag
A lot of people talk and claim that the fireproof bag must be made out of fiberglass and coated with silicone. The truth is that there are a lot of fireproof materials, and as for which one you get it doesn’t really matter as long as it has good external and internal heat and fire resistance, is waterproof and can last as long as possible in a fire or high temperatures.
Extended time exposure
As for how long will your content will be undamaged during a fire or a high-temperature environment is extremely important. How high the thermal resistance is irrelevant if the fireproof bag will deteriorate after 10 minutes in that temperature. This is often one of the most overlooked features of a fireproof bag, as most people will only look at having as high as possible thermal resistance and not even thinking that the longer the fire is burning the higher the chance of the fireproof bag deteriorating which will eventually lead to all of its content being destroyed.
My recommendation is to look at the statistics of the average response time of your local fire department, add an additional 30 minutes for the actual fire extinguishing and you will have an approximative time as for how long your fireproof bag should last in a fire.
What to put in your fireproof bag
My personal recommendation is to only put important documents in your fireproof bag with some cash also. This way no matter what kind of SHTF situation is unfolding you can always rely on for the safety of your documents, the fireproof bags in addition to being fireproof are also waterproof. People tend to hide these fireproof bags in some secret place of the house but you do not have to do that, my recommendation is to keep it in an easily accessible place where in case of a fire you can just pick it up and run.
Some even say that burying your documents in a fireproof bag is also a good idea, but if you decide to do this make sure you put each document in a waterproof zip lock bag. As the fireproof bags are made to withstand fire and water this does not mean that they will not deteriorate if they are in water for a prolonged time.
There is no need for an SHTF event to happen to have your house in flames. Accidents always happen no matter how well you have been prepared. In case of a fire, your most valuable documents will be your Insurance Policy this will cover the damages created by the fire. Even if you do not have this document they will still cover your damages but it will take a lot longer as insurance companies tend to drag their feet before paying a dime.
You need to include in your fireproof bag all the birth certificates of your family members. I hope I do not have to explain why the birth certificates are important, but if you somehow forget to include them in your fireproof bag and they get destroyed you are looking at several months of running around the city to have new birth certificates made.
This is also a very important document especially if you need to travel by plane to get home. Without it, you will have a nightmare time trying to get a passport made at an embassy.
In addition to the prescriptions, you can also include the actual medications in the fireproof bags, although there is no telling how will these react being exposed to heat.
Without it, you will face a long and infuriating road to getting these remade.
Usually, in addition to their documents tend to include some family photos which have sentimental value. But there is no guarantee these will make it undamaged in a fireproof bag due to the temperatures. Depending on what method and what material is used for the photos these in addition to catching on fire can also melt and potentially damage your other documents.
I am not a fan of depositing any electrical devices in fireproof bags, but an external HDD would be ok as it does not have a battery which could explode. There are numerous people who have a lot of valuable data on hard drives and it is logical to try and keep them safe. Do not use a USB stick or storage, these are not made to withstand any heat, while an external HDD is more resilient to higher temperatures and even if they get damaged you can still retrieve the data with specialized tools.
Safe deposit box keys
A lot of people mention to include also safety deposit keys in fireproof bags, but if you are already paying for a safety deposit box why not store all your valuable documents there? These places usually are extremely safe and they have advance fire detecting and extinguishing systems. If you have a safety deposit box use that instead of any fireproof bag.
Social security cards
Without these trying to rebuild your home and life is impossible, the more documents you have lost the slower your progress towards normality will be.
Spare car and house keys
You will need spare keys both for your car and house as nobody can predict what you will forget to bring out of a burning house. If you have a fireproof bag your first instinct will be to get it to safety and if this already includes your keys you do not have to worry about going back to get them.
You might not have the possibility to take shelter at somebody you know after your house has burned down. In this case, you will need some emergency cash which you will use for food, water, and payments for a hotel or motel room for a couple of days till you get a more permanent place to stay.
Emergency debit card
Notice I said debit card and not a credit card, the last thing you want after losing your house to a fire is to go into more debt by using a credit card. in addition to your debit card, I would also include all your financial account details as the card might be damaged due to the heat as it is mostly made out of plastic. In addition to this debit and credit cards have a magnetic strip which could be damaged by the heat.
These are safe to store in any fireproof bag as they have no chance of catching on fire and the temperature for them to melt is way higher than the temperature of your average house fire.
Jewelry is an extremely high value item, its main benefit is that you can have an extremely valuable item which occupies little space and it easy safe to store it in a fireproof bag.
Fireproof bags do work but there are several factors which you will need to take in consideration, all mentioned above. Depending on the situation a fireproof bag might not be your best option as these are made in the presumption that the fire will be extinguished in 30-60 minutes. Which is a fair amount of time, but in an SHTF event, the fire department will take longer to respond if they can at all.