Fireproof boxes - do they work?

Published: May. 10, 2010 at 9:12 AM CDT|Updated: May. 10, 2010 at 9:13 AM CDT
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By Andy Wise - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - If a fire destroyed your home, would important information like your birth certificate, social security guards and marriage license survive?

Last February, the Chuldaskis home burned beyond repair.

"We all go through life saying it's not going to happen to me," said Mike Chudalski, "and then, all of a sudden, you're standing in front of your house watching everything go up in smoke."

The fire took just about everything, including some very important paperwork.

"Like the passport, birth certificates," Chudalski said.

They did not have a fireproof safe, which might have made a difference.

We put some containers and cabinets to the test.  We loaded up a fireproof box with a CD and some pictures.  We put the same in a large fire safe and in a simple file cabinet.

The containers were loaded inside a house already used by a fire department for fire training.

As the house burned, Fire Marshall Kevin Rigoli explained how fireproof containers are supposed to work.

"That gypsum around the safe insulates everything," Rigoli said, "much like when you wear a coat in the winter it keeps the heat from getting to it."

The fire burned up to 900 degrees.  The fireproof boxes are rated for different amounts of time in the direct heat.

The first to come out was the file cabinet.

"It's not rated to survive in fires," Rigoli said.

It did not make it.  The photos were not destroyed, but as soon as air got to them they lit up again.

The small fireproof box was hard to find, but once they pried it open, not only was everything intact, but the CD still worked.

The large fireproof safe had not been properly locked to start.  The items inside fell out and burned in the fire.

"Heat warped the plastic but there was no burning," Rigoli said.  "So what was inside would have made it."

The fireproof safe cost about $100.  Smaller fireproof boxes start at around $20.  

Before buying a fireproof safe, check out user reviews and comparisons online.

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