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What is Fire?


Understanding How Fire Works

In a sense, we are all afraid of fire. Some may have had a traumatic experience but never quite understood exactly what it is or how it works. Don't get me wrong, fire is extremely dangerous and should never be taken lightly. However, a little bit of proper information may ease a few minds.

The Fire Tetrahedron

Metaphorically speaking, all the stars have to align in order for fire to occur. That being said, one must understand that the "stars" in this case is the fire tetrahedron. Previously known as the fire triangle, this phenomena includes: fuel, heat, oxygen and a chemical chain reaction. By simply removing one of these elements, the fire can either be prevented, suppressed or be controlled. This is exactly how a fire extinguisher works, by separating the fuel from the fire with a fire retardant powder.

Fact vs. Fiction

A common misconception with fire is that water will extinguish all fires. Why wouldn't it? The firefighters are always using large amounts of water in burning buildings. Reason for this is that homes and businesses include a majority of class "A" materials. Class "A" materials being wood, paper, plastics to name a few.

When talking about electrical fires or Class "C", water is the the last thing that should be involved. First, try and first unplug the electrical device that is on fire and try to smother it with a blanket. When all else fails, turn to the reliable ABC portable fire extinguisher!

Stages of Fire

Fires occur in stages:

The ignition stage involves the fuel, oxygen and heat which starts a chemical chain reaction.

The growth stage uses the flame already present to ignite nearby fuels. An example would be a trash can fire with nearby draperies. The flame from the trash can ignite the draperies and continue to grow throughout the dwelling.

The third stage is the fully developed stage. At this point in the fire there are many issues -- the fire spreads to all available fuel, extreme temperatures surface and major heat damage occurs.

Lastly, there is the decay stage. During this period, the fire has consumed all available fuel and the fire is burning itself out.


Simply put, fire is dangerous -- no matter how big or small. With just a small understanding of how fire works, we can all recognize the telltale signs and potentially save a life.

Be Safe.

Anthony Hilderbrand Anthony Hilderbrand is currently a fire inspector and fire investigator for the Department of Defense. He spent the last eight years in the Air Force and held five distinctive positions within the fire service. During his tenure as an Airman he had three separate tours to the Middle East. With his Associates in Fire Science in hand, Anthony is currently enrolled at American Military University pursuing his Bachelor's in Fire Science Management.