The 4 Main Stages Of Fire: When to Act & How to Prevent?

House fires can start spontaneously, to control these lethal flames it is best to target them when they are at their weakest.

 knowing them and acting quickly can save a lot of damage. Here at firefightertools.co we believe that prevention and knowledge are key, therefore in this article, we will go through the basic stages of fire and how you can control the fire if it gets out of hand.  

Stages of fire:

So to start off fire has 4 distinct stages: the first one is the incipient phase in which the fire is ignited. The growth stage is up next in which it starts to grow rapidly. This phase is succeeded by the fully developed phase in which the flame (as the name suggests) is at its peak and lastly comes the decay stage, in which it dies down and is ultimately extinguished.

But there is a lot more to this than just this so let’s take an in-depth overview of what these stages of fire mean for house fires and how they can be prevented.

Incipient:


 

Let’s start off by discussing how you can identify the incipient stage. As we’ve described above, in the incipient stage the fire is just starting. The fire can either be extinguished or it can grow to produce a catastrophic house fire. 

In this stage, smoke begins to rise but not to the point that it reduces the visibility of the area.

It is just enough for people to see it. The fire detectors should immediately identify the smoke and should go off sounding the alarm. Since it is just the beginning of the fire, it can be controlled quite effectively in this stage, so now is the best time to extinguish it. 

If you see a fire in this stage then you can try to extinguish it yourself but be extra careful when you do. A fire extinguisher would surely come in handy in a situation like this

Just so that you get a clearer picture of what an incipient fire would look like, you can picture a small fire in your lawn or your backyard. Or a stove catching fire.

Growth:


The most dangerous part of a house fire and certainly the most short-lived can be the growth stage. In this stage, the heat produced from the fire is so hot that it makes the nearby surrounding catch fire. 

At this stage it is vital that all individuals from the building are evacuated immediately, the building is in danger of collapsing. The biggest and most frightening part about the growth stage is that it is very short-lived and usually ends in a bang sometimes referred to as a flashover event.

Flashover:


So before understanding what flashover is, let’s look at what a flashpoint is. Well to put it simply, the flashpoint is the temperature at which a substance can ignite itself spontaneously or in other words, it ignites automatically.

Even if there is no direct form of fuel in the room, most materials can act as fuel for the fire if their flashpoint temperature is reached. When a temperature of about 1100 degrees Fahrenheit is reached, most objects in the room ignite simultaneously releasing huge amounts of energy and light, hence the name flashover.

Backdrafts:


Other phenomena such as backdraft can also occur, in which it may appear that the fire is in its decay stage. But just as a door is opened or a window an explosion occurs. The reason behind this phenomenon is the fact that the fire was dying because the oxygen in the room was depleting and when the door was opened oxygen came rushing in which was instantly ignited and caused an explosion

To avoid this, firefighters check the ventilation of the area which is burning, this is part of their protocol.

One very important thing to consider is the fact a flashover is actually not a stage but can be considered a transition. When the fire progresses to the next stage known as the fully developed stage a flashover event may occur during the transition period.

Fully developed:


In this stage the fire has reached its peak, the building may be considered too dangerous for even well-trained firefighters so they may try to control the fire from a distance

Here the fire is at a scorching high temperature. After this stage, the fire will slowly begin its decline and enter a decay stage. But as we’ve described before there are some situations in which it may come back, like in the case of a backdraft.

Decay:


This is the final stage of a fire, in this stage, the fire has spread to all the areas that it possibly could. It is now slowly decaying and decreasing in intensity.

It is important to note that a fire will enter this stage if the fuel runs out, or the supply of oxygen is limited. If new fuel is added the fire can very well be reignited

This stage may take hours, days, or even weeks to finish. As fuel such as wood stumps can burn for a considerably long time if not intervened. In the case of a forest fire, this is a critical stage as the fire can easily spread to other surrounding areas. The quicker the flame dies down the lower the chances of it reigniting.

Prevention:


Now that you know all about house fires their origin is the stages of fire. It’s time that you learned how to prevent such an incident from happening in the first place.

As you very well know, the best way to protect yourself from a house fire is to prevent it. House fires start from small and simple mistakes or incidents that go unnoticed for too long and end up being a disaster.

Use smoke detectors:

To prevent this you need a good detection mechanism, proper placement of your smoke detectors is crucial. There are dead air spaces in your house, placing a detector in such an area makes it useless. Also, make an escape plan in case of a fire, this will make you better prepared for such an event.

Proper care of your smoke detectors is also important as they can often go neglected, changing the batteries after every month or so for proper working. 

keep a fire extinguisher in your house:

Most people stop at the smoke detectors but in some rooms such as your kitchen, having a fire extinguisher is absolutely essential. Fire extinguishers are of different types but they generally work the same for a more detailed analysis on the fire extinguisher that is perfect for you.

If in a situation where the fire has exceeded the first stage and you see it moving towards the growth stage then immediately call the fire department. Immediately evacuate the building and wait for the firefighters to arrive. 

Be extra careful around fires:

One of the most common causes of house fires are intentionally lit fires, that doesn’t necessarily mean arson. It also includes stuff like fireworks and candles that you use at a party, they can easily go out of control and can cause the fire to start rapidly. So always make sure to be extra careful when using such equipment.

Also, it goes without saying that don’t let your children use fire or any such utensils that can be the starting point of a fire.

Secure your possessions:

As an extra step, you can purchase yourself a fireproof safe to keep all of your valuables secure even in the case of a fire. They come in all shapes and sizes to better suit your needs so be sure to check them out here.

Important things to consider:

 

  • It is not always necessary that the entire house is on the same stage of the fire, fires can change quite rapidly, and depending on the materials in the room can evolve rapidly or not at all. In a building, it is possible that some rooms have reached the fully developed phase whereas in others there is no sign of fire at all. So when inspecting a building each room is to be as a separate house fire scenario. 
  • Malfunctions can change the outcomes or the probabilities of fire and hence have a lot to do with the dynamics of the fire itself. Let’s take an example, a window gets sealed or a door gets jammed, in such a scenario the room can run out oxygen pretty quickly, and in such a case opening the said door can be the cause of a backdraft.
  • For firefighters, it is sometimes useful to know the layout of the building, in house fires a tactical approach like a pre-planned approach to the problem can be difficult as the time is usually short and the variations are higher. For example, a larger building that has been burning for quite some time, this method can be an effective tool to deal with fires in a tactical way. 
  • Also smoke may not be the best indicator of the stages of fire or it’s ferocity, white smoke was previously thought of as a less meaningful form of smoke but that is certainly not the case. Each situation should be assessed individually because white smoke can also originate from different sources such as rubbers. If we run with the preconception that white smoke is not as bad then things could turn sideways pretty quick.
Videos on stages of fire:

Videos on stages of fire:


To get a better and clearer understanding of what each stage looks like you can watch the short 22-second video mentioned below

Here is another video by the Oakridge fire department on the importance of safety precautions and having an escape plan. It also highlights the stages of fire and the growth of it.

Conclusion:

So to conclude the article let’s look at what we’ve learned. There are basically 4 stages of fire, the incipient, the growth fully developed, and finally the decay. The fire can only be controlled or extinguished when it is in its incipient stage, when it starts growing, firefighters must be called immediately. Your fire safety alarms and prevention equipment must be running and up to date so that the fire is contained as soon as possible. 

Hopefully, with this new information, you can make better and informed decisions about anything that is fire-related.

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