While fire is one of our most valuable tools, it is also one of the most destructive forces on the planet. Last year, the fire service in the UK attended over half a million incidents, including nearly 170,000 fires which resulted in 321 fatalities. There were also over 3,200 non-fatal injuries that required medical treatment.
Fire and How It Spreads
Three things are needed for a fire to occur:
- A fuel such as paper, gas or petrol.
- A source of ignition such as a spark or faulty electrical equipment (At some point, the fire itself becomes a source of ignition for the further spread of flames).
The chemical process is called oxidation and is something we see every day when we spot a rusting bit of metal. The difference with fire is that this process happens extremely quickly and that means a lot of heat is normally released. At a certain point, this leads to combustion and the outbreak of the fire.
How Does Fire Spread?
A fire cannot continue to burn unless it has all the three factors stated above. If you take away the oxygen or the fuel it needs, the flames will die down. Extinguishers often work by smothering a fire and cutting off its supply of oxygen.
A fire can spread in multiple ways and a lot will depend on the location and the intensity of the flames.
- Direct contact: This is how a fire initially spreads. The flames come in contact with more combustible material and, as long as this is available, it will continue to thrive.
- Heat transfer: A fire can become so hot it doesn’t need to be in contact with an object before that too catches fire. This is why you should never place highly combustible materials next to or near a heat source.
- Conduction and convection: Some objects absorb and conduct heat better than others. That’s why fire can get so hot that it is transferred through walls and steelwork. Heat also rises which means things can be a lot hotter near the ceiling than at floor level. If there are outlets like air vents, this can allow a fire to spread into other rooms via convection.
- Flammable gases: When the temperature in a room rises dramatically, it can cause items like furniture to give off harmful gasses. Some of these can also be highly flammable once the fire begins to get out of control.
- Backdraught: A fire can begin to die off when the oxygen level is depleted. If the area is very hot, however, opening a door or window can bring a sudden influx of new oxygen that causes an explosion as everything reignites.
Fires can also spread if you use the wrong method to extinguish it. That’s why there are different types of extinguisher available. For example, if you have a chip pan that catches fire, pouring water onto it is the worst thing you can do as it causes an immediate and explosive reaction.
The Fire Service has produced a whole range of advice for avoiding fires and what safety procedures you should have in place, including fire extinguishers. You can find out more on their website. For commercial and public entities, it is a legal requirement to have adequate preventative fire measures in place. If you require assistance here at FTS we offer everything from Risk Assessments, Fire Awareness Training, Fire Extinguishers and Accessories, escape aids like Emergency Lighting Inspections, alert system maintenance like Fire Alarm Maintenance and preventative measures like PAT Testing of electrical equipment and many more safety services. Call us for free initial advice on 0330 6600264 or email [email protected]
Until next time…. Stay safe!