Every creature on earth knows the fearful power of fire. Learning how to utilise it is possibly one of man’s greatest achievements, as it allowed science and technology to kickstart in every way. However, we still lose control over it sometimes and suffer the consequences. Fire can develop from a tiny ember to a full-blown firestorm that incinerates everything in its path. The following are the four stages of fire development:
- Stage 1 – Incipient stage: No visible smoke and very little heat. Small fire.
- Stage 2 – Build-up stage: More heat causes pyrolysis (decomposition of material due to heat), releasing combustible gases. May cause a flashover (every combustible surface in the room ignites all at once).
- Stage 3 – Fully-developed stage: Visible flame, massive amounts of heat, smoke and toxic gases. Everything is burning.
- Stage 4 – Decay stage: Fire is either contained or extinguished. If not, may spread to other areas (e.g. the next room).
After sufficient heat has built up, fire spreads almost explosively (sometimes literally) causing extensive damage. Thus, the most important part is preventing the fire in the first place or extinguishing a small fire still at the incipient stage. As powerful a tool it may be, it can also destroy everything you hold precious within a matter of hours.
An interesting phenomenon related to fire is backdrafts. This is similar to flashovers (described above) except it is triggered by oxygen rather than a build-up of heat. Both cause a sudden transition from a small fire to a full-scale inferno.
A backdraft occurs when a burning room is filled with pyrolysed, combustible gases but lack the oxygen needed to continue burning as it was used up while the fire was building up. When a firefighter or a broken window causes air to rush into the room, the pressure in the room spikes and every combustible material suddenly bursts into flames, exploding out in a ball of fire. Backdrafts are one of the most dangerous fire phenomena that claim the lives of countless firefighters.