Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Tips for safekeeping your valuables in event of fire

By Kassondra Cloos kassondra.cloos@gazette.com - Published: June 3, 2013

he stifling heat generated by the Waldo Canyon fire melted many things locked away in gun and fire safes that claimed to be fire proof.

And, in many cases, the safes were not destroyed by the fire - only the things inside them.

As summer draws near, so do the dangers of wildfires and flooding and the fears of, once again, losing everything.

The Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum faces daily challenges to preserve its items for years to come, and director Matt Mayberry has advice for families looking to protect their own memories.

One of the first steps people should take is to determine what's most important, Mayberry said. That includes both crucial documents and sentimental family heirlooms.

"Probably one of the lessons that came out of Waldo Canyon is, how do you prioritize?" Mayberry said. "You know, if you have 20 minutes, what are you going to do?"

Two of the more important parts of preservation are redundancy and grouping things together, Mayberry said. People should scan their documents and keep paper copies separate from the originals. Having multiple electronic copies won't hurt, either.

People shouldn't toss the originals once they've got duplicates, Mayberry said, but they should take care to store them safely for long-term preservation, perhaps even in safety deposit boxes at a bank.

At the museum, paper documents are stored in open, acid-free plastic sleeves inside acid-free cardboard boxes. Most paper and plastics release acidic gases over time, which can damage other documents. It's best to mitigate acid as much as possible by not trapping it and creating a microclimate, Mayberry said, which is why the museum steers clear of laminating.

Grouping things in organized boxes will make it easy to move them quickly in the event of a fire or flood.

"My recommendation to the public is, if you have really important documents, things you just can't bear to lose, first thing I would move them to upper levels," Mayberry said. "Certainly above ground level. Take it to an upstairs bedroom, store it in a closet up there. If it has to be downstairs, store it in a closet up high."

Paintings on the walls of homes are generally safest from floods where they are, Mayberry said. The Pioneers Museum keeps its boxes of documents at least 2 inches off the floor, where floods are unlikely to rise.

Some of the items on display at the museum are reproductions, such as the paintings in Mayberry's office. Originals - whether documents or artwork - are much better than reproductions, but there's always a chance that originals can be damaged. Mayberry said the same goes for people's private collections.

"We don't want to see reproductions of things necessarily," he said. "But you have to know that you're taking a risk and you have to also think about, if something were to happen, how important is it that I save this thing? And start making a list in your head."

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