The Nature of Fire

Every day Americans experience the horror of fire. But most people don't understand fire. Only when we know the true nature of fire can we prepare ourselves and our families. Each year, more than 3,500 Americans die and 20,000 are injured in fires, many of which could have been prevented.

The U.S. Fire Administration (a part of the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security) and the Charleston Fire Department believe that fire deaths can be reduced by teaching people the basics about fire. Here are some simple facts that explain the particular characteristics of fire: 

  • FIRE IS FAST! – In less than 30 seconds a small flame can get completely out of control and turn into a major fire. It only takes minutes for thick black smoke to fill a house. In minutes, a house can be engulfed in flames. Most fires occur in the home when people are asleep. If you wake up to a fire, you won't have time to grab valuables because fire spreads too quickly and the smoke is too thick. There is only time to escape. There is little time—Get out, close the door, and stay out!
  • FIRE IS HOT! – Heat is more threatening than flames. A fire's heat alone can kill. Room temperatures in a fire can be 100 degrees at floor level and rise to 600 degrees at eye level. Inhaling this super-hot air will scorch your lungs. This heat can melt your clothes to your skin. In five minutes a room can get so hot that everything in it ignites at once—this is called flashover. When you hear your smoke alarm—Get to the floor and crawl to your escape exit. Know (and practice) two ways out of every room.
  • FIRE IS DARK! – Fire starts bright, but quickly produces black smoke and complete darkness. If you wake up to a fire you may be blinded, disoriented, and unable to find your way around the home you've lived in for years. Get as low to the floor as possible, cover your mouth and nose with your hand or a wet towel.
  • FIRE IS DEADLY! – Smoke and toxic gases kill more people than flames do. Fire uses up the oxygen you need and produces smoke and poisonous gases that kill. Breathing even small amounts of smoke and toxic gases can make you drowsy, disoriented, or short of breath. The odorless, colorless fumes can lull you into a deep sleep before the flames reach your door. You may not wake up in time to escape. Install, test, and maintain smoke alarms—smoke alarms save lives.

Safety Tips

In the event of a fire, remember time is the biggest enemy and every second counts!

  • Escape first, the call 911 for help.
  • Develop a home fire escape plan and designate a meeting place outside.
  • Make sure everyone in the family knows two ways to escape from every room.
  • Practice feeling your way out with your eyes closed.
  • Never stand up in a fire. Always crawl low under the smoke and heat, and try to keep your mouth closed or covered.
  • Never return to a burning building - it may cost you your life. Remember to practice you home escape plan frequently with your family. Finally, having a working smoke alarm dramatically increases your chances of surviving a fire.
    Contact the Charleston Fire Department at 843-720-1981 to get a free smoke alarm. We will even install it for free.

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