Fanning the Flames: Unravelling the Mysteries of Fire Spread and Prevention

As we all know, fire can be fast-spreading and cause devastation. Fire can engulf a whole property in just a few minutes, so understanding the ways fire can spread will not only protect you and others around you in the event of a fire, but you can also prevent fires from spreading pre-emptively. In this guide, we delve into different ways fire can spread and how to prevent a fire from spreading. In this article we cover:

Convection Fire

The most common and dangerous type of fire is a convection fire. As heat from a fire rises in an enclosed space, the heat is trapped by the ceiling, causing a build-up of heat. This causes the fire to spread horizontally across the ceiling, quickly spreading fire across the area.

If you find yourself in the middle of a fire, remember to stay as low as possible. This will reduce the high temperatures you will experience from a fire and ensure you are as far away as possible from any potential convection fires.

Conduction Fire

A conduction fire involves the process of heat transfer. Metals are thermal conductors, meaning they are able to transfer heat from a fire. This is the same process that occurs when you are heating up a pan to cook with. Fires can spread through conduction as any metal or thermal conductors in the room will begin to heat up when a fire is present. This can cause a new fire if any flammable material is near the thermal conductor.

If there are structural components in your building that are made from steel or any other material capable of heat transfer, fires can easily spread from one room to another. Steel beams can heat up to a temperature hot enough to cause a fire. Any flammable materials that may be on the other side of these steel structures could catch fire which produces new fires, allowing for the further spread of fire.

Radiation Fire

The longer a fire is ablaze, the more heat it will give off. This heat can be transferred through electromagnetic waves. This is the same process that occurs when the sun is on your skin. You aren’t directly touching the sun but you can feel the heat because electromagnetic waves are transferring this heat. As fires can reach extreme temperatures, the heat can be easily transferred via electromagnetic waves causing nearby objects to also catch fire.

Direct Contact Fire

This is the most common type of fire people think of when they think of fires spreading. Direct contact fires are exactly what you would expect: combustible materials catch fire through direct contact with flames.

When a fire begins, direct contact is one of the ways a fire spreads before the heat and ferocity of the fire increase. Any combustible and flammable materials in the fire’s path will be quickly engulfed in flames, which fuels the fire, further leading to other methods of spreading the fire.

Backdraught Fire

Three things are needed to create a fire: oxygen, heat and fuel. In cases where there isn’t much oxygen left in a room due to poor ventilation, the fire will begin to die. However, if there is a sudden release of oxygen, whether that be from an opening door or window, the fire will suddenly reignite, which can cause an explosive fire.

This is why you should never re-enter a burning room as simply opening a door may trigger the reignition of the fire. Additionally, if you think there is a fire on the other side of a door but are unsure, do not open the door until you are certain there is no fire.

Flashover Fire

A flashover fire is another way fires can spread. With the extreme temperatures fires can reach, rooms that contain any items that are not already engulfed in the flames will begin to emit flammable gases. This generally occurs in items made from specific organic materials, such as furniture. Once these gases are released, the near-simultaneous ignition of the gas and materials occurs, enveloping the whole area in flames.

How to Prevent Fire From Spreading

To prevent fires from spreading, you should utilise your knowledge of the different ways fires spread. This will help you build an action plan for your escape should you find yourself in a fire. For example, if you find yourself in a room where there is a fire but there is no sensible means of extinguishing the fire, make sure you stay as low as possible and try to stay away from any combustible materials if possible.

However, fire prevention should start before a fire even begins. By understanding the ways fire can spread, you can put measures in place to prevent fires from spreading far. For instance, identify where steel or other metal structures are in your building and remove as many flammable materials from their surroundings to reduce the chance of conduction fires.

This can also be the case for radiation fires. If there are any radiators in your building, be observant of any combustible materials placed close to them, as these could catch fire if there is enough heat radiated.

Although identifying areas of potential fires is helpful when preventing the spread of fire, you should also have fire safety measures in place to mitigate the effects of a fire in your building. From fire alarms to fire extinguishers, fire blankets, and fire door equipment, you must put these measures in place to not only follow laws and regulations but also ensure the safety of the people in your building.

Prevent the Spread of Fires with Fire and Safety Centre

Understanding how fires can spread provides you with the best knowledge of how to prevent a fire and the steps you should take should you find yourself in a fire. Above all else, you should implement fire safety measures to protect yourself and those around you from harm. At Fire and Safety Centre, we offer a range of fire safety equipment to ensure you are fully equipped in the event of a fire. From fire extinguishers to fire alarms and detection, we have a fire safety solution for you. Ensure you are protected from fires with Fire and Safety Centre.

How Does a Fire Spread FAQs

What are the four ways which fire can spread?

There are many ways fire can spread. Four ways fire and smoke can spread are convection fire, conduction fire, radiation fire and direct contact fires. Some of the key characteristics of these types of fires are:

  • Convection Fire: Fires spread through trapped hot air building up and causing fire that spreads horizontally across the ceiling of a room.
  • Conduction Fire: These fires require thermal conductors that are heated up from the current fire and cause any flammable material touching them to produce new fires.
  • Radiation Fire: When fires reach high enough temperatures, a substantial amount of heat is transferred through electromagnetic waves to other combustible materials.
  • Direct Contact Fire: Combustible materials catch fire through direct contact with flames.

How quick does a fire spread?

Fires can spread extremely fast. A small flame can become a major fire in a matter of seconds, and in 5 minutes, a whole building can be engulfed in flames, so it is crucial you put preventative fire measures in place to protect everyone in your building.

What is the most common way a fire spreads?

Convection fires have been named the most common way a fire spreads. This is where the heat from a fire builds up and collects at the top of the ceiling of a room. This heat build-up can become extremely hot, which can result in the start of a new fire that spreads horizontally across the ceiling.

To minimise the effects of a convection fire, remember to stay as close to the ground as possible. This will ensure you are travelling through colder air compared to the heat of the fire, and you are further away from any fires that may occur on the ceiling.

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