All fires are unique, with distinct characteristics and challenges. For starters, each aspect creates a broad spectrum of variables including the source, the intensity, the combustion rate, and the physical arrangement of the structure. When a fire breaks out, it immediately begins to change the environment of the structure. Fires are as unpredictable as they are damaging. This is why understanding structure fires is so important. Learn more about this destructive force to help prevent it from damaging your home or business.
Characteristics of Fire
Fire is a chemical process requiring three things to occur: oxygen, fuel (combustible material) and heat. When heat can’t release faster than it’s created, combustion occurs. This is what creates the flame and heat we call fire. In laboratory conditions, a balance of oxygen, fuel, and heath will result in complete combustion. In the real world, the unequal balance of the 3 elements result in smoke residue (soot) being produced to some degree. If you have complete combustion you have no soot. Therefore, soot is the product of incomplete combustion and in technical terms combustion is the chemical process of burning or changing a solid into a gas via heat.
In all chemical processes, molecules rearrange themselves and energy is either absorbed or expelled. When a fire burns, a process called oxidation occurs, the same process that causes metal to rust. Oxidation is when oxygen atoms combine with carbon and hydrogen to form carbon dioxide and water. When the fire has sufficient fuel and has an adequate air supply, it consumes materials as it burns. The more flammable the fuel source, the more complete the consumption of the fire. The higher the heat, in most cases, the higher the rate of combustion, and usually, the richer the air is with oxygen during a fire. The rate of oxidation is especially fast with fuel sources such as paper and wood.
Causes of Structure Fires
Many fires begin in the kitchen. All it takes is a drop of grease to splatter out of a hot pan onto a gas flame, and you have a dangerous kitchen fire. Other common causes of house fires include space heaters and frayed or inadequate wiring. Careless smoking, especially around textiles, is also a significant cause of house fires. Preventing a house fire takes vigilance, especially in situations involving open flames, such as smoking, burning candles, or using a barbeque. Avoid distraction while cooking to avoid accidental flame-ups and grease fires.
Escalation of Structure Fires
Once started, a structure fire is likely to spread until all fuel has been used up. This could have devastating consequences for your home or business. By understanding how fire spreads, you may be better equipped to extinguish it.
Chemicals and combustibles – When fire comes in contact with household cleaners, paint and other chemicals, the fire burns hotter and more aggressively, encouraging it to spread. Other combustibles commonly found in the home include mattresses, sofa cushions, magazines, newspapers and various textiles.
Open space – A building with limited interior structure burns much faster than one with hallways and closed doors. Walls and doors trap the fire and prevent the flames and smoke from spreading. While the fire will eventually burn through the structure and continue to spread if left to its own devices, a fire fighting team has a much easier time dousing the flames in a building with more walls and doors, especially if those structures are built to withstand the heat and damage of a fire.
Construction materials – While a fire can burn through just about any modern building, fire resistive buildings made of concrete and steel curb the spread of fire better than wood frame homes.
Ventilation – Buildings with central heating or air conditioning have ductwork, which provides a way for flames and smoke to spread between floors of a building, even when the structure is comprised primarily of concrete and steel.
Water – In some cases, water is not the best fire extinguisher. Grease fires, for example, can actually spread faster when doused with water. A special fire extinguisher or baking soda should be used to suffocate and stop the spread of grease fires in the kitchen.
What Should You Do After Fire?
As soon as emergency crews put out the fire, they will advise you on whether the house is safe to re-enter. Do not return to your home unless fire fighters have informed you that it is safe to do so. Once the emergency crews leave, it is time to consider restoration options. At Xtreme Home Improvement, we understand both the science and the emotional toll of fire. While the fire alone can cause tremendous destruction, so too can the resulting smoke and soot. Rest assured that we will properly restore damaged areas and belongings. Our specialized training, cleaning methods and equipment combined with our experience means quicker cleanup, lower costs, and a faster return to normal for you and your family.