• Mike Lewis

What is the Science Behind a Fire?

At LFS, we are experts in fire prevention and protection, so we are proud to present to you our comprehensive guide to the science behind a fire.

Here you will learn the answers to all of your most burning questions, including what causes a fire, how they are classified and most importantly, how to prevent them.


What causes a fire?


To really dive into the science behind a fire, we need to look at what causes a fire to start.

For it to ignite naturally, fires need a combination of fuel, oxygen and heat all at the correct levels. Taking one of these attributes away will ensure a fire can not start.


Three common causes of fires


The first human interaction with fire took place 1.5 million years ago, and since then, the causes of fire have changed drastically. However, there remain very different ways in which a fire can start. From natural causes to fires started by sheer carelessness, we have split the different fire causes into three types.


1. Natural fires in the wild


Wildfires and forest fires are natural fires that happen all the time across the globe. To put it into a little more perspective, on average, 1.2 million acres of US woodland burn every year.

In some cases, natural fires are caused by the ratio of fuel, oxygen and heat we have touched upon previously. But in other instances, a fire in a rural area may be ignited by a spark from a passing train which will have a truly devastating effect on dry land.

We also need to consider areas that fall victim to the sun beating down on the right organic material, as even this can fan the flames for a full-blown fire. Or an act of God in which lighting strikes the ground at a 30,000-Kelvin temperature creating a disastrous fire-spreading opportunity.


2. Industrial fires


As the name suggests, an industrial fire occurs in an industrial setting, like a manufacturing plant, auto repair shop, or kitchen. However, an industrial setting is defined as any workplace where goods are manufactured, or clear objectives are met.

For that reason, it is clear to see why industrial fires are such common hazards as the numerous sources of fuel and heat present in these settings leave room open for fires to ignite. From equipment failure to the presence of combustible dust, chain reactions in industrial environments can mean flames engulf the space in an instant.

Fire prevention and safety are paramount in industrial settings, and utilising the highest-standard surveys, maintenance, and risk assessments is vital.


3. Careless fire causes


Of course, you don’t need us to tell you that a significant cause of a fire is sheer carelessness around fire safety. Negligence and a general lack of care will cause a devastating impact if outright arson is not the culprit at play.

Thoughtless acts like flicking away a cigarette butt, setting off fireworks or having a barbecue in a field can lead to people losing their homes, livelihoods and even their lives.

While you may think your habits are harmless, other forces at play can instigate the right conditions for catastrophic fires to start. For example, the direction of the wind may fan flames to more flammable materials.


What are the different classes of fires?


Did you know that fires are divided into different classes, and different fire extinguishers are designed to best combat each class?

Learning about the different fire classes will help you quickly and efficiently identify fire and know how to extinguish it safely. This will also ensure that you do not accidentally cause the fire to spread and become out of control.

The six classes of fires are:

  • Class A: Fires that involve solid materials, like wood, paper or textiles

  • Class B: Fires involving flammable liquids, like petrol, diesel or oils

  • Class C: Fires involving gases

  • Class D: Fires involving metals

  • Class E: Better known as electrical fires, ‘Class E’ does not technically exist but involves live electrical apparatus

  • Class F: Fires involving cooking oils, like deep fat fryers

Preventing fires


Now that you understand the different types of fires that may occur and where they are most likely to happen, it’s time to start thinking about preventative measures.

Tips to extinguish a fire are more widely known and are still vitally important information to know. But we believe that learning safety tips and advice on preventing fires should be just as universally widespread beyond relying on common sense.


How to prevent a fire at home


Our homes are our safe sanctuaries, and for this reason, very few of us take seriously the potential risks that may be lying around your house.

To help you prevent fires in your home, we have put together a simple checklist of hidden dangers and silly mistakes you should be constantly aware of:

  • Don’t overload plugs into an electrical outlet, even if there is space!

  • Never smoke on soft furnishings or leave lit cigarettes burning

  • Keep any combustibles away from heat sources, like stoves, heaters or fireplaces

  • Ensure you have working smoke alarms on every floor of your home

  • Keep downstairs doors closed at night

  • Dispose of any wires or cords that become damaged or worn

  • Teach your children the dangers of fire and the importance of fire safety

  • Put in place an escape plan and route, and ensure the whole family learns it

How to prevent a fire in the workplace


Preventing fires in the workplace is a much more complex process which requires continuous health and safety checks and regulations to be put in place. If you need to ensure your workplace is carrying out all of the preventative measures that it should be, then keep reading.

To prevent fires in a work setting, it is best practice to focus on each component of the fire starting equation and ensure preventative measures are taken for each.


Heat


Heat will be a common risk in your work setting as many machines and processes in an industrial environment will give a lot of heat output. Ideally, heat should be kept away from any fuel sources unless carefully controlled.

Clear responsibility for specific tasks and processes should be put in place and known across the entire team. Staff should also be provided with fire-resistant and protective clothing, plus all processes should be logged and audited as standard practice.


Oxygen


You can put in place several oxygen safeguards in the industrial workplace to ensure fire prevention. These include:

  • Employees understand their responsibility to report dangers

  • Ensure all equipment is leak-tight and in good working order

  • Check that there is adequate ventilation

  • Remind all employees not to smoke where oxygen is present

  • Never use oil or grease to lubricate oxygen equipment


Fuel


Finally, take proper precautions on sites where high quantities of fuel are displayed, stored or used. Fuel consists of flammable materials, and so it burns readily even in a normal atmosphere.

Put in place the following fuel safeguards for fire prevention where fuel is concerned:

  • Ensure there is no timber lining to ceilings, walls and staircases

  • Eliminate any noticeboards in safety/escape routes as paper can fuel the fire

  • Keep gas detection equipment available on site

  • Conduct regular risk assessments


Next steps in fire prevention


We hope that our comprehensive guide to the science behind fire has given you all the must-know information you need for prevention and safety. You might already be thinking of ways to put what you have learnt into action.

So, if you’re looking for expert fire prevention services, then don’t hesitate to find out how we can help you at LFS. We are proud to offer premium surveys and risk assessments, as well as fire doors, fire rated glazing, and fire-stopping products.


Related Articles:


How fire spreads and how to stop it

Reviewing your fire risk assessment

Passive fire protection: What is it?


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