Updated July 2021
To understand what causes a fire to start, you need to learn about the Fire Triangle.
The Fire Triangle consists of the three elements that are needed for a fire to start and for it to continue: heat, fuel, and oxygen.
When all three of these elements are combined in the right mixture, a fire will start. Once started, it will continue to burn until one of them has been sufficiently reduced and/or removed, creating an imbalanced Fire Triangle.
Understanding how a fire can be started, what will feed it, and what will make it stronger can save lives – yours and others. We know what starts and feeds a fire, but what makes a fire worse?
Things that make a fire worse
Gasoline itself is flammable via its vapor. From improper use when trying to start a fire or containers not being stored properly, gasoline can make a fire nearly unmanageable.
Diesel is not the same as gasoline. Gasoline (via its vapor) is flammable, while diesel is combustible. Similar to gasoline, it is the vapor that ends up catching fire rather than the liquid itself.
Diesel tends to burn slower than gasoline, so it doesn’t exactly explode, but is much more difficult to put out. Just like gasoline, improper use and improper storage can make this fire hard to contain.
Like diesel, oil falls into the combustible category. Again, it is the vapor from the oil that ends up catching fire, not the liquid.
Oil fires can occur under a plethora of scenarios, including oil spills and improper storage. If a fire comes in contact with oil, regardless of how it happens, the fire is likely to become stronger.
Cooking oils and grease are not flammable, but when they reach their flashpoint, they will ignite quickly and burn intensely.
If a fire comes in contact with cooking grease, whether in a bottle or spill, it will dramatically strengthen in mere moments.
If this happens, do not use water to extinguish the fire. Instead of extinguishing the fire, this will actually cause the oil to splash and spread the fire.
Lack of water
Since water is one way to put a fire out, a lack of it can be a serious problem.
If your building lacks adequate water flow, or an active fire protection system, there is a good chance that a fire will get stronger and cause greater, unmanageable damage.
It’s easy to overlook a wire with a bare or stripped section on it, but fires can start from one perfectly placed spark, especially if the spark lands on something flammable. A loose connection at a wall outlet can also cause some serious damage.
Excess paper or trash
An overabundance of paper and trash can easily become a fire hazard, which is why most safety manuals suggest keeping your area clean.
All it takes is one flick of a cigarette to start a fire – and if it makes contact with a large pile of trash or debris, it could lead to disaster.
No one ever thinks about dust making a fire worse, but dust burns quickly due to its dry nature. Some dusts, such as dust that comes from solid materials or metals, are combustible, and may start a fire by interacting with the surrounding air.
Gas leaks are normally undetected and can become explosive very quickly.
When there is a gas leak, almost any spark can start a fire. If a fire is moving towards a gas leak, it could become disastrous or even fatal.
This includes oxygen tanks for breathing, helium tanks for filling balloons, propane tanks for heating or cooking, and so on.
If a fire reaches one of these tanks, and the tank fails, the chance of catastrophic fire is extremely likely.
Understanding how a fire can be started, how it continues, how to stop it, and what can make it worse could be the difference between living and dying.
After reviewing these factors, you should be able to easily identify potential fire hazards in your building and take the necessary precautions to reduce the risk of starting or feeding a fire. Being proactive about fire safety can save your life or the lives of many others.