Are you aware that you can lose all your personal belongings
in a single fire?
It’s very sad when fire strikes your home. You lose everything.
You do not have a chance to save many belongings. You will be
considered lucky if you escape with your life.
A person’s home is a very private piece of his or her existence.
People have been known to struggle for their entire life just to
accumulate sufficient material riches and built comfortable
shelters for themselves. We can experience a tremendous sense of
loss if our homes have been razed to the ground by a fire.
Fires know no bounds. We hear so much of this happening in the
news. Small children and aged persons getting trapped inside
while a house is on fire. We see live footage on television
showing people jumping out from 3-storey buildings and getting
injured. We see the terror in their eyes as they make a desperate
effort to avoid being burnt alive.
We come across stories of people being suffocated by the thick
smoke from a fire.
Death, injury and material loss is the result of fires in homes.
It is a matter for everyone to take seriously.
Yes, the home is as safe as you make it to be – if you take steps
to prevent fires from occurring in the first place.
Fire can also be a friend or a foe to mankind. Fires have been
used for keeping warm, for cooking, for lighting, and so on. If
it were not for the discovery and utilization of fire, mankind
will have a very hard time surviving in the cold reaches of the
Earth. Our early ancestors used fires to ward away wild animals.
Food tastes better when cooked or warmed up on a fire. Farmers
clearing fields of weeds have also used fire. Many scientific
discoveries are obtained by using the heat from fires.
Internal combustion engines, steam boilers, make use of
engineering principles of combustion. Engineers and scientists
have studied how to harness the heat from fires for energy
Fire is a true friend if you know how to use it well. The benefits
to mankind are many. Sometimes we forget that it can also be very
There is a saying, “It takes a tree to produce one million matches,
but it takes a match to destroy a million trees”. That’s the power
of a fire. It can also destroy tremendously. It can go out of
control. Efforts must be made to tame it.
There should not be any doubt in the minds of people. Fire is a boon
to mankind. But it needs to be controlled well in order to use it.
People who makes use of fire, (that includes all of us), must know
the nature of a fire, and how a fire can start. It is a fundamental
rule to understand what we are dealing with.
In order for us to use fire properly, we should know something
about how a fire can occur. People who have a natural fear of fire
usually do not know much about fires. If they know how a fire can
start, they will not fear it as much, but rather treat it with
respect. The more you find out about fires, the better you will be
at preventing it from going out of hand.
Starting a Fire
How a fire can start?
In order for a fire to start, three conditions must be met, and they
must be present together. The conditions are heat, fuel, and oxygen.
If you take any one of them away, a fire will not occur. It is called
the “Fire Triangle”.
The Fire Triangle principle is used in all fire prevention and fire
fighting measures. It is very simple. Remove any one of the three,
and you will not have a fire. Put all of them together and you will
have a fire or even an explosion. An explosion is just a rapid burning
of a fire.
The three components of a Fire Triangle are heat, fuel and oxygen. The
components can appear in many forms and it important for those of us
who want to adopt fire prevention measures to look carefully.
Sometimes, people do not realize that all the three are present until
it becomes too late. For example, a tiny electrical spark that can
become a source of heat often cannot be seen at all. Sometimes, even
when the three conditions are present, the energy of the heat may not
be sufficient to cause a fire.
As with all accidents, when nothing terrible happens, people tend to
get careless. Why worry? It did not happen the last time, it will not
happen now. What they do not realize is that sometimes there is not
sufficient heat to vaporize the fuel.
And fuel does not have to be petrol or kerosene. A piece of wood is
combustible when it becomes heated enough. Cloth and paper are also
fuels for a fire. The plastic chair in your dining room can be a fuel.
In fact all organic materials can burn if it is hot enough.
Oxygen is always present in our atmosphere. In fact we thrive on the
oxygen in the air to live. Oxygen occupies about 21 percent by volume
in air, the rest being nitrogen. So in normal conditions, this part of
the Fire Triangle will always be present and is very difficult to avoid
having when we plan our fire prevention measures in our homes. It will
be more relevant when we want to stop a fire that has already started.
In this case, one of the ways to break the Fire Triangle is to remove
oxygen. There are ways to do this, one of them is by blanketing or
However, in our planning for fire prevention, we can look at ways of
reducing the chances of oxygen rich atmosphere forming anywhere around
the fuel and the heat. This has been known to start fires rapidly.
Everybody knows that heating can cause fires. However, we must not be
unduly alarmed if there are sources of heat around us. We simply cannot
avoid the heat. In fact we use heating for our own benefit. Simply put,
we must treat heat and fire with respect. We should also study the
mechanism of a fire.
The Mechanism of Starting a Fire
If you put the flame of a lighted match under a piece of wood, you can
be sure that most of the time the wood will not catch fire. Even if
you dip a lighted cigarette into a pan of lubrication oil, it is very
unlikely that the pan of oil will catch fire.
So how does a fire actually start?
To answer this question, we must know how a fuel burns. A piece of wood
can be considered a fuel. The carpet fabric on the floor of your house
is also a fuel. But why does some fuel burn so easily while others do
not? How does a fuel burn?
Taking a piece of wood as an example, below is the sequence of events
that happen when a fire occurs.
· First, there must be a source of heat, a combustible or fuel present,
and sufficient oxygen. (Remember the Fire Triangle)
· Next, the source of heat, like a naked flame, must meet with the
combustible for a certain amount of time.
· The combustible must be able to absorb a considerable amount of heat
from the heat source in order to decompose. Combustibles that can burn
are usually organic compounds containing carbon. When the heat reaches
the combustible, the latter will give off gases due to the decomposition
of its material structure. Some of these gases are combustibles
themselves. Water vapor may also be given off.
· The wood becomes drier and drier. The gases given off by the
decomposition of the wood will catch fire by themselves. The heated
wood keeps on giving out combustible gases as long as it is heated.
· With the additional heat given off from the burning of the gases in
the wood, the heat becomes more intense. More parts of the wood are
heated, and more combustible gases emerge. The fire keeps getting bigger
and bigger until the whole piece of wood is consumed.
· If this bigger source of heat from the burning of the piece of wood is
able to contact other combustibles, then the fire will spread to the
whole house or building.
Looking at the Sources of Heat and Fuel
The obvious sources of heat are electrical heaters, electrical light
bulbs, ovens, open flames of the gas stove, electrical sparking, friction
caused by rubbing, and so on.
Those that are not obvious are often the things that will cause
accidental fires. Electrical wiring is one of them. A good practice for
the home is to check the electrical wiring conditions. This is especially
so for old houses. The insulation of old wiring and components usually
deteriorates with age, and contacts with dust, oil and moisture in the
environment. Some may have already cracked, exposing the bare metal parts
to the environment. Electrical conductors do become corroded and contacts
can become loose. This can cause sparking and overheating.
Sometimes, a fire is burning at its correct place, for example, at a
stove. If there is an accidental spillage of the fuel somewhere, it can
cause the flame to spread to another place. LPG hose leaks can cause a
fire from the gas stove to spread to the hose and the surrounding
furniture. Leaking kerosene stove with dripping kerosene can cause the
fire from the stove to spread to the table or the floor. Sometimes
accidental breakage of a bottle of a spirit lamp may splash the fuel all
around and cause a fire to spread rapidly.
Accidents like these do happen, but they can still be avoided.
None of these fires can occur if there is no fuel to catch fire. Careful
segregation of the heat from the fuel will ensure that the fires will
not spread. Even if it were to start, it will not be sufficient for the
fire to spread. When dealing with open fires like these, it is essential
that no other combustible materials be nearby. So even if there is an
accidental spillage, the effects could be minimized.
The presence of a rich oxygen source can often cause a spontaneous fire.
Chemicals like potassium permanganate, hydrogen peroxide can produce
oxygen under certain conditions. These chemicals are often kept in homes
for medical purposes. Sometimes oily rags throw around the place can
catch fire by themselves because of chemical reactions.
Storage of chemicals must be controlled because mixing of certain
chemicals sometimes produces heat. Storage of paint, thinner, turpentine,
methylated spirit and other solvents must also be well controlled. It is
good to be aware of the chemicals we use around the house. Nail polish,
lighter fluid, aerosol for paint or insecticide may contain very
volatile inflammable materials.
Aerosols must be used carefully. Small particles are easily combustible.
Even organic powders can be dangerous. A bowl of flour is very safe by
itself, but if the powder is allowed to be blown in air to form a haze,
it can be easily ignited if there is a source of heat.
The sun can also produce a tremendous amount of heat. We experience this
when we step into a car exposed to the afternoon sun. It may just need
a small quantity of extra heat to start a fire.
Looking around for ways of reducing the chances of oxygen-rich atmosphere
forming anywhere around the fuel and the heat can help a lot in
preventing unwanted fires from happening. However, sometimes it is the
unexpected that causes fires…