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What Does a Fire Damaged Hard Drive Look Like?

July 6, 2015

One of the worst-case scenarios for a data recovery case is fire damage. Fires damage thousands of personal computers, laptops, and servers each year, and the results…well, they aren’t exactly pretty.

At, we have special methods for retrieving information from burned hard drives (and you can call us at 1.800.237.4200 to learn more), but in some cases, the damage is too severe to allow for a successful recovery. We can usually recover data if the platters of the drive are recoverable and if we can discern some key information about the hard drive.

This drive resembles a piece of toast more than a high-capacity storage device:

Fire-damaged hard drive.

This is the underside, and you can see that the circuit board is completely ruined by the high temperatures. Here’s another drive from a similar server:

Bottom of fire-damaged hard drive.

These drives had a pretty bad prognosis, but once again, we can still get the data in many cases — provided that we can read the platters.

When we receive a computer or server that has been damaged in a fire, we open the drive in a clean environment to inspect the platters. In severe situations, we see something like this:

Inside a Fire-Damaged HDD

Not great. The platters have a thin magnetized layer that stores all of your files. If they’re this badly damaged, data recovery is completely impossible.

Inside Fire-Damaged Hard Drive

Fire-Damaged Hard Drive

In these pictures, you can see some partially damaged platters, which are still probably unrecoverable.

When the top platter appears to have partially boiled off like the one below, then you know it got hot. It’s interesting to note that the head is still dutifully parked off to the side.

Melted and boiled platter

Here’s one of our engineers removing a damaged hard drive from a badly damaged server.

Fire-Damaged RAID Array

fire damaged drive held by gloved hand

How Do We Recover Fire Damaged Hard Drives?

Fire damaged hard drives are often difficult to recover, but not impossible. Hard drive enclosures are usually pretty good at protecting the platters — those shiny disks housed on the inside — and we’ve got the equipment to recover any hard drive that still has a complete set of platters.

Our basic process is to open the drive, clean it, and remove the platters, then transfer them to another hard drive (think of it as a brain transplant for your computer). It’s not that simple, of course; we also need to work with the firmware to make the drive readable, and in order to avoid platter contamination, we perform hours of extremely delicate repair work. For our clients, the good news is that recover rates are usually very high, provided that we get quick access to the drive(s) in question.

Most cases aren’t as severe as the pictures on this page, but time is always an important factor with fire damaged hard drives, since the drive can continue to degrade and corrode. If you have a fire damaged drive, call us at 1.800.237.4200. 

If you want more information on another type of hard drive failure, send us an email at and we’ll write a blog about it.

Also, if you liked this post, be sure to check out our Reddit AMA.  It contains more cool pictures and detailed information from a few of our engineers and one of our customer service team members. However, it is an open forum, so please be aware that there’s some strong content including not-safe-for-work language.

What Does a Fire Damaged Hard Drive Look Like?
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What Does a Fire Damaged Hard Drive Look Like?
See pictures of fire damaged hard drives and web servers along with some helpful technical information from the world leader in data recovery.