Fire and The HomeA person's home is a very private piece of his or her existence. People have been known to struggle for their entire lives 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. 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. We see live footage on television showing people jumping out from 3-story 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 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 generation. 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 dangerous. 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.
How a Fire Can StartHow 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 sometime 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 smoldering. 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 FireIf 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 thrown 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.