Fire Safety

The Speed of Fire

February 14, 2018
speed of fire

Fire spreads at an almost unbelievable rate. Recently, forest fires around the world have highlighted how devastating and fast-spreading fire can be. Wildfires can consume vast areas of land in minutes, increasing in intensity as they grow. Dry conditions and abundant fuel combine to horrifying effect – not just for the wildlife that live there, but for humans who live and work nearby too.

Now imagine the same process in an enclosed space. This is where underestimating the speed of fire can cost lives.

How Fast does Fire Spread?

In an enclosed space, like the living room of a family home, fire becomes life-threatening within two minutes. That might seem like plenty of notice; but for most of that time, the fire is silently growing, almost undetectably.

Although it’s showing its age, this video clearly demonstrates how fire develops in a living room – from small licks of flame to an infernal pillar of thick black smoke in a matter of seconds.

If this were the living room of a household who’d all gone to bed, this fire could be uncontrollable by the time they’d woken up to find it. Flames could end up blocking their means of escape, and smoke inhaled into panicked lungs could become deadly.

Even if the household were awake and alert, and a fire were to break out in the next room, the creeping nature of fire makes it difficult to detect until it has grown into a significant force. Housefires are devastating – and all too often, they end in tragedy where smoke detectors are either absent, have had their batteries removed or have failed altogether.

Always be sure to check your smoke alarms regularly. Replace worn batteries at the first signs of power reduction – and do not remove smoke alarm batteries to power other items, or to reduce false alarms. If you frequently have false alarms, a photoelectric smoke alarm might be your best solution – some have integrated batteries that can’t be removed, adding an additional layer of safety.

Fire Protection in Large Spaces

A forest fire provides near laboratory-perfect conditions for fire to spread: a large space full of fuel and oxygen, with prevailing winds to assist oxidation. Those conditions can be replicated indoors – in large buildings with open plan designs.

Think about modern shopping centres or museums, where seamless walking spaces meet cavernously high ceilings. Powered ventilation moves air around and, while the building itself will be resistant to fire, combustible materials can be found everywhere within it. Without adequate fire protection, fire would be able to spread as easily as it does in a wildfire – only now in an enclosed space, full of people.

Fire protection for large, open interior buildings can be achieved with active fire protection: advanced alarm systems, sprinklers and of course, fire curtains.

Unlike other forms of fire protection, fire curtains offer compartmentation in open spaces – stemming the spread of fire and buying precious time for occupants to escape.

Keeping Up with Fire

At Coopers Fire, we’ll continue to progress our research and development of fire curtains and fire protection. The more we learn about slowing down the speed of fire, the better our products become – and the safer open plan buildings can be, without sacrificing design. To find out more, or to enrol in our educational training courses, call us on 02392 454 405 or email

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