Fires are one of the most devastating things that can happen to our families and our homes. When the fire has died down and it’s time to sort through the ashes, what do you do with your fire-damaged firearms?
We get a lot of emails and phone calls from people who’ve had guns go through a fire. Questions like what to do immediately after a fire, if a firearm is safe to shoot, how much it would cost to restore, and how to deal with insurance. We asked Doug Turnbull to answer some of your most frequently asked questions.
What’s the first thing you should do after your firearm’s been in a fire?
As soon as you’re able, you need to get your firearms in a bath to get the soot and ash off and prevent rust damage. Either use a bathtub, or create one from 4 x 8 sheets of plywood and plastic sheeting. Then add ½ cup Tide detergent and 3 pounds baking soda to about 5 gallons of warm water. You can add more baking soda if you need it; you really can’t overdo it with the baking soda. Put the whole firearm in—including the wood and scope—and use a cloth to wipe the soot and particulate off. They don’t need to soak in the bath, just get a good wipe down to make sure all of the acid from the soot and smoke has been neutralized. Remove them from the bath and rinse. Then dry and oil your firearms. This process will keep the smoke and soot from rusting your firearm, as well as removing the smoke smell.
A few years back a customer of ours had a big fire at his place. The fire was on a Wednesday night, and on Saturday we went down and started dealing with the firearms. He had hundreds in his collection. We created 4 x 8 plywood baths and threw 8 guns in at a time. We were able to save 90% of the firearms in his collection. If he had just oiled them and left them sitting on the back porch, they would have kept rusting and getting worse and worse.
How do I know if my firearm is safe to shoot?
Play it safe: After your firearms have been in a fire, bring them to a gun shop, or mail them to us to take a look at. You never know what sort of internal damage has taken place during the fire. We offer free quoting for restoration and repair work, and can disassemble, clean, and reassemble your firearm for a reasonable rate. Send us an email or give us a call to find out how much it would cost to clean your particular model.
Can I tell if something’s “too far gone”, or do I need an expert to determine that for me?
Here are a few tell-tale signs:
- Singed or burned-off wood
- Melted plastic
- Pitting or scaliness in the bluing
- After cleaning any bluing is completely removed
After cleaning if you’re unsure if it can be saved feel free to get in touch with us or your local gun shop for an expert opinion. We can often tell from photographs if it’ll be possible to save. When that’s insufficient we’ll ask you to send it in for free quoting so we can get a better look at it. It’s always best to get your firearms in a bath if you think there’s the possibility they could be saved.
How much does it cost to restore a fire-damaged firearm?
Restorations vary greatly depending on what sort of work needs to be done and what sort of firearm we’re dealing with. We recommend calling or emailing to find out what a “ballpark” guess is for your project. From there, we always recommend sending your firearm in for free quoting, assuming your firearm isn’t too far gone to be saved, a model we don’t work on, or something that would cost far more to restore than it’s worth. Whenever possible we offer suggestions for other gunsmiths who might be able to take on your project if it’s something we can’t help with.
The slideshow below displays a fire-damaged Winchester 1894 Deluxe Takedown, after its “bath”, that is a firearm restoration candidate.
How can I prevent losing my firearms in a fire?
A fire-proof safe is always a good prevention step. Regular gun safes can heat up and act as an oven in a fire, but are still preferable to leaving your firearms unsecured.
Another good option for higher value firearms and collections is insurance. One insurance company we’ve worked with in the past is Core-Vens Insurance. We offer insurance appraisals on your fire-damaged firearms for $150. Some customers have asked us whether they should get their firearms in a bath right away, or if they need to wait until the firearms have been appraised for their insurance claim. We asked Tim Hartsock at Core-Vens that question. “Your insurance company won’t penalize you for trying to preserve your property,” he told us. “It’s better to give it the chance to be saved than to gamble that it’ll still be salvageable in a few days or weeks after the soot has had a chance to eat away at it. Take some good pictures of the damaged firearms and do your best to preserve it.” At the end of the day, that’s an individual judgment call, but if it’s something that you’re attached to–or that you know has great value–we think you’re better off halting the corrosion from the soot and smoke with a bath.
We hope that you and your family will never have to deal with a fire. But if you do, know that we’re here to help. From assessing the safety of the firearm, to insurance appraisals, all the way to full restorations, we’re here to make sure your firearm is one less casualty of your fire.
Great info on fire damage helped a gunsmith friend of mine redo fire damaged weapons least year. Learned some new stuff from you thanks
Glad we could add something! And it’s always good to hear a firearm was saved to shoot another day.
I have a desert eagle 44 mag went through a fire melted the grips and plastic piece in mag I cleaned it and sañded it down to Sara cote I would like to replace all the springs and small pieces what would you do and where can I get the parts thanks
Unfortunately that’s not a model that we work on. You might try getting in touch with Magnum Research to see if they can point you in the right direction.
is a AR-15 or a Thompson Typewriter safe to use after thoroughly disassembled and cleaned up after a house fire?
I would recommend getting in touch with a local gunsmith to have them evaluate the condition of the firearm and whether or not it’s safe to shoot.
I work in a shop in calif and have recently gotten in a few firearms that have been I a fire and have seen the rust you are talking about …. I will try the bath solution TODAY … hopefully this will help …. thanks for the info !!!!!
I’m so glad this post found you! Hopefully their firearms aren’t too far gone and you guys can save them at your shop. Good luck!
I have a 98 action that a uncle gave me. It was a rifle but was in a bad fire. Je gave it to me because he thought it was a lost cause. I totally disassembled what was left of the rife. The barrel was discarded and the bolt and action components disassembled, cleaned and reassembled. I was considering installing a new barrel chambered for the 6.8 Western. What are your thoughts.
I would take it to a gunsmith and have them check it out. We don’t work on 98s, so I wouldn’t recommend using us for that, but there are lots of skilled folks out there that I’m sure can help you assess it.
I have a pistol that was in a fire it was handed down 38 special believe nickel plated could it be sent to you to check out.
Yes, we can take a look at it to see if it can be repaired or restored. You can find information on sending your firearm to us here: https://www.turnbullrestoration.com/about/faq/shipping-information/
had a house fire and found all my guns, I have one that is stainless bull barrel, cleaned up decent, time will tell, but my question is, I have one the stock is pretty charred up, but gun was still functional, bolt, ect, and blueing still looked decent, and wondering if a guy can epoxy the stock to fill in the missing and charred wood, then polish it down to size, 95% of stock was decent, just a few spots deep char. would epoxy over the old stock be strong enough to shoot.. 25-06. thanks for any info
So sorry to hear about your house fire, but I’m glad you recovered all of your firearms. I would recommend bringing your rifle to a local gunsmith and asking for their in-person advice. It’s hard to say over the internet if something will be safe to shoot.
Your restorations look far better than most new “high-class” firearms that I’ve seen! They are incredible “beauties!” I’ve got a rather “nice ?” old Parker VH E double that I would like to have restored, but I’ve had it for 58 years and now find myself 85 years old. and probably don’t have enough time left to fully enjoy the finished product! I am going to try and buy one of your beautiful showroom guns before I check out! Keep up the beautiful work Mr. Turnbull!
Thanks, Mr. Perkins!
1911 handgun.Fire heat up to 1200. Gun in ammo can.
Color pale orange.
Frozen. Feds would not let us go to property for a month.
Sorry to hear about the fire. It sounds like your pistol really took some damage. Unfortunately I think you have yourself a wall hanger now. Although getting there sooner probably wouldn’t have saved your pistol, since it did heat up so much.
You had you had to replace almost everything, would be nice to know what you replaced.
Good question. As Doug recalls, we replaced the barrel, the cylinder, and the ejector housing. He’s pretty sure there were some other additional parts, but those are the major ones he remembers.
Most of my town including my house burned down November 8th 2018 and we weren’t allowed back in until December 15th, lots of rain in between. Guns were in a metal gun cabinet (not fireproof or waterproof). House was mostly incinerated except for the metal parts of my guns: 30-30 Winchester (no plastic parts), S&W Bodyguard automatic, Russian SKS, ect. Unfortunately I didn’t read this article until now July 6, 2019. I oiled them all down but didn’t know that I should scrub them down. The SKS looks like the barrel warped. All of the wood and grips are completely burned up on all of them. I’ll rebuild the Winchester to be a mantle piece, the rest are toast.
I’m sorry to hear about that, Steve. That sounds like a good plan for the Winchester. If you need any recommendations for parts you can check out our Industry Links page, or get in touch: https://www.turnbullrestoration.com/about/industry-links/
Is it possible to send you a couple of pics of what I believe was a fire gun, for your inspection and expert opinion of it, and if you think it went through a fire?
Thank-you for sharing your photos; proving that skilled firearms craftsmanship still exists in America, even though the day and age in which we presently live is saturated in the belief of “quantity over quality”.
We could certainly take a look at those photos for you! You will probably need to take it to a local gunsmith or send it in to us to be sure, but there are some tell-tale signs that we may be able to identify through photos. Feel free to email those to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
My firearm burned totally down, would it be possible to restore it?
Thanks for commenting. That’s a very tough question to answer without seeing the firearm, but from your description (“burned totally down”) I would guess it’s probably beyond saving. You’re welcome to email us with photos and more details: email@example.com.
A number of years ago I was given an original 03A4, Unfortunate it was in a house fire with all the wood burned off. I cleaned it up put a replacement stock on it . Great wall hanger.
Can the receiver be re-heat treated, replacement parts are available , barrel, bolt, etc. Can it safely be restored?
Appreciate your advice,
Generally if the wood has burned off in the fire that’s a sign that the firearm is too damaged to be restored. However, we don’t specifically work on bolt action rifles (and aren’t looking at yours in person) so I would recommend getting a second opinion from someone such as Dave Norin, who specializes in bolt action rifles.
My guns all have a lot of rust from water vapor and soot caused by a house fire. They were in a safe. I was wondering if the value of regular common firearms is such that it is easier to just replace them than try to revalue a $200-600 gun. Insurance I had is trying to cheap out on paying for guns and tools, and suggested cleaning.
I’m sorry to hear about your house fire. I would recommend cleaning them up as best you can and bringing them to a local gunsmith for evaluation to make sure they appear safe to shoot. If they need to have more work done than that, it would probably be worth just replacing them, but that would be something to discuss with your gunsmith.
Great advice and information. I do several house fire jobs a year. I wish more people would follow the advice outlined in the article, though it would mean less work for me.
Well I’m here because my firearms just were exposed to the acidic smoke of a house fire. The stainless steel was pitted before the firefighters even had their hoses stored.
The bluing wiped off with WD-40 soaked rag. (it’s all i had)
It’s painful, some may live for another day but will never be close to the same.
Have a 38 s+w bodyguard with laser. Was in holster in purse in a truck cab fire on floor. Plastic grip melted and laser on side melted a bit. Some blueing has a white look on it. Other things were salvaged and not destroyed credit cards money etc. do you do restoration and replace plastic grips and laser and clean check if ok to shoot and re-blue ?
That’s not a model that we would personally work on. You might check with Smith & Wesson to see if they have any thoughts on its viability, or any recommendations for a shop that could repair your revolver.
Yesterday I purchased an 1870 Springfield trapdoor rifle, caliber .50-70.
The older gentleman that I bought this from told me that the guy he had got it from, said that it was found in a school house that had burnt down.
The barrel had been cleaned up by someone in the past, and they had cold blued the barrel. The bore is pretty rough now . The bad parts are the hammer and lock plate and the breech block ( I believe those parts were originally case hardened ). You can see flow lines in the metal from corrosion caused by the smoke and water damage.
The stock is still totally intact but there are some black areas, although it is not charred. It’s still retains an inspectors cartouche in the stock.
The rifle is of historical importance because it is a very low serial number model 1870, and the serial number for the barrel and receiver both match, which was quite hard to find on a model 1870.
Thank you for your time and consideration and for any information that you could give me with reference to restoration of this firearm.
That’s not a model we work on, so we won’t be able to help with any repairs or restoration. I also can’t advise on whether or not it can be restored. I would recommend checking out the American Custom Gunmakers Guild to see if any of the skilled gunsmiths and artisans there can help you: http://www.acgg.org.