The best way of protecting yourself in a fire is to understand the behaviour of fire and how it spreads.
Fire is fast, hot and deadly. Every day people are experiencing the horror of a fire. With a lack of understanding, it can end in tragedy.
Once you can recognise how fire behaves, you can help to prevent a fire and stay safe.
It’s easy to overlook just how quick a small fire can spread. You won’t have time to rescue valuables. It can take only 5 minutes for a whole property to go up in flames.
There are 6 ways in which a fire will commonly spread:
Initially, this is how fires normally spread until the heat builds up.
Fire will either travel along or through any combustible or flammable material it comes in contact with.
For example, a stack of cardboard boxes will enable a fire to quickly spread and build.
This is the process we use when we light a candle with a match. But it also how a candle can cause curtains to go up in flames.
As a fire increases in intensity, it will give off more heat.
Heat can transfer through electromagnetic waves. This is what makes us feel hot when we stand outside in the sun.
From a fire, this can cause nearby objects to catch alight if enough radiated heat reaches it.
This is why you should never place combustible materials near a radiator or build a bonfire near a fence or shed.
This is another way in which a fire can spread via heat transfer.
Any materials, such as metals, which can absorb and transfer heat are thermal conductors. An example of this is when your saucepan handle gets hot.
This allows a fire to spread through walls or steelwork.
And if there is a flammable material on the other side, it can heat up and cause a fire to spread into a neighbouring room or building.
When trying to escape a fire, you should always stay as low as possible. This is because hot gas and smoke rise above any cold air.
Ceilings then trap and prevent it moving any higher, which then causes everything to build up.
Not only is this dangerous if breathed in, but this too can cause a fire to spread.
If enough heat, fuel and oxygen build up in this area, it will create its own fire away from the original.
Once this happens, the fire will quickly engulf a whole room in seconds.
When convection has caused a hot layer of gas to establish, it will then begin to radiate the heat downwards.
The temperature in the room will continue to rise to around 500oC. Breathing in the air at this temperature will quickly scorch your lungs.
At these temperatures, any combustible materials in the room, such as furniture, will start to give off flammable gases.
A near-simultaneous ignition can then begin and change a ‘fire in a room’ to a ‘room on fire’.
A well-established fire has plenty of heat and fuel, but will often lack oxygen if there is no ventilation.
This causes the fire to begin to ‘die’ and fill a room of partially burnt particles in the form of soot.
But if a door opens or a window breaks, air will rush into the room. This can then re-ignite the fire, gases and soot with an explosive force.
This will send the fire out of the door or window and cause its spread.
It is for this reason then, that no-one should ever go back into a burning building. And if you ever suspect a fire on the other side of a door, don’t open it. Instead, find an alternative means of exit.
Having this basic understanding means you understand how to best prevent a fire. But also, how you should react in the event of a fire.
This gives you, and everyone with you, the best chance of survival.
And you can help others by sharing this advice with them.