Fire has the power to give us light and warmth, but it also has the power to destroy. Even one, tiny, seemingly harmless flame can quickly spread and grow out of control. Understanding just how quickly a fire can move could mean the difference between life and death for you and your loved ones. In fact, experts agree that, on average, occupants have approximately two to three minutes to escape a home where a fire has broken out. So, how can this be? See for yourself what occurs during the first seconds and minutes of a house fire.
Moment Zero: Ignition
In this example, we’re going to look at a fire that begins on the stovetop. Nearly half of all house fires start here, and all it takes is a few seconds for a pot to boil over, spilling oil-laden contents onto the burner, where leftover fat or residue is able to catch fire – in just a few hundredths of a second, no less.
First 30 Seconds
Once a flame occurs, fire is able to spread easily. Any splattered grease, fat, or residue on the stovetop will ignite, and any combustible materials (i.e. paper towels, paper or cardboard packaging, pot holders, or dish towels) will begin to heat up, smolder, and burn. This introduces deadly smoke to the mix. At this point, extinguishing the fire with an appropriately-rated fire extinguisher, or smothering the flames to deprive them of oxygen is crucial. Remember to never use water on a cooking fire, as it can spread the flames.
30 Seconds to 1 Minute
If the fire goes unnoticed after the first 30 seconds, it will grow higher and hotter. Both exposure to open flames and radiated heat will cause more combustible materials to set on fire, and it will continue to spread around the entire room. The larger the fire grows, the larger a plume of hot air and smoke that will rise up to and across the ceiling.
60 Seconds to 2 Minutes
During this time, the hot plume of smoke is beginning to grow thicker and deeper beneath the ceiling, thus increasing carbon monoxide levels. It will quickly begin to spread outwards into hallways and adjacent rooms, and will even begin traveling through the vents.
2 Minutes to 3 Minutes
By now, the kitchen cabinets, wooden shelves, and countertops are being consumed by the fire. With so much combustible material being on fire, the temperature in the upper layer of hot gas reaches 400 degrees Fahrenheit – hot enough to kill a person. The smoke is now dense enough that it is hanging just above the floor, and it is growing increasingly toxic.
3 Minutes to 4 Minutes
It only takes 3.5 minutes for the heat from a fire to reach 1100 degrees Fahrenheit. Because this level of heat can cause all materials in the room to spontaneously catch fire, flashover occurs during this period of time. This means that everything is engulfed in flames and the oxygen is sucked out of the room, causing glass windows to shatter. Flames pour out of doorways and start to burn ceilings and walls, thus traveling to other areas of the home at a rapid speed.
4 Minutes to 5 Minutes
Now, flames can be seen from the street, and the chance of escape or rescue may be impossible. The collapse of wooden floors and even the roof is inevitable. We have a full-blown house fire.
The speed with which flames can grow, spread, and engulf an entire home is incredible, but being aware of the power of fire can help you prepare safe evacuation routes for yourself and your loved ones, and to practice fire safety throughout your household.
In the event that a fire does or has occurred inside your home, you need to have it professionally cleaned and restored in order to ensure that deadly smoke and other toxins are removed. Water damages from firefighter flames may also need to be addressed. Abbotts Fire & Flood is ready and able to help you reclaim your home after a catastrophic event. Give us a call to learn more today.