We’ve all seen action movies in which the main star will run through a burning building to save the day. A lot of us have probably also thought to ourselves, is that even possible?
Well, the action heroes of real life: firefighters, prove that it is possible, but only with the appropriate safety equipment. Still, it does make you think about what it would be like to be inside a burning building.
Hopefully, nobody reading this will ever have to actually go through something like that but, to satisfy your curiosity, we’re going to talk about what happens inside a house fire and how hot it can get.
Of course, there are different variables that will affect how hot a house fire will get, as well as which parts of the house are hottest. In this article, we’ll be going over every contributing factor and detail.
How Does A House Fire Work?
It’s pretty well known that cooking is the number one biggest cause of house fires across the world. This means that the majority of fires are initially started by things like stovetops being left unattended, oil catching fire and electrical malfunctions.
It’s important to note that the flashpoint of most cooking oil (the point at which it will catch fire) is around 600°F. However, the temperature of some stovetops can reach as high as 1000°F.
30 Seconds In
The first 30 seconds is when the fire will spread quickly. Every combustible material around the kitchen will burst into flames and pretty soon the entire room will be engulfed.
This is the most crucial time to extinguish the fire. If you try to move a burning pot or pan, you could risk spreading flames further around the kitchen.
Instead, you should try to extinguish it as quickly as possible by covering it with a lid or sheet pan and never use water to try and extinguish a grease fire.
1 Minute In
After about one minute, the furniture and fittings in the kitchen will start to ignite too. Things like cabinets, tables, chairs and curtains will be the next things to go up in flames.
2 Minutes In
After two minutes, the fire will start spreading to other parts of the room and the cloud of smoke under the ceiling will get bigger and bigger. This is one of the most dangerous aspects of a house fire that a lot of people overlook.
The fire will create poisonous gases that can do even more damage than the flames themselves. You definitely don’t want to breathe in any of this gas and should evacuate long before you see these large clouds of smoke.
5 Minutes In
By this point, the flames will have spread to almost every room of the house and they will be visible even from the street outside. This is when the structures that keep the house stable will start to struggle.
At such extremely high temperatures, even the steel used to hold your roof together will start to buckle and fall apart, let alone the synthetic materials and adhesives used in the walls and floors of the house.
The Importance Of Quick Action
As you can see, fire spreads through a house devastatingly quickly. From something so minor as a pan fire can come a massive, life-threatening ball of flames that can bring an entire house crashing down.
That’s why it’s important to act quickly. Try to extinguish the fire as soon as it starts and prevent it from spreading to anything else in the room. Once it’s out of your control, it’s time to evacuate and make sure everyone else in your home knows what’s going on.
Call the fire department as soon as possible. The sooner they’re able to get to your house, the greater chance there is of them being able to save it.
As long as all this action is taken quickly, there’s no reason everyone in the house shouldn’t be able to evacuate and there may even be a chance of firefighters being able to save the structure of the house.
You might not have heard of this term before, but it’s something that can happen in every house fire and spread the flames and damage even more quickly through the building.
Basically, all the poisonous, combustible gases that are created by burning materials all build up and rise towards the ceiling.
Then, as the gas builds up and moves further towards the floor, it can all ignite at the same time, producing a massive explosion that’s often powerful enough to break windows and knock people over.
Because the flashover often creates additional airways for cold air to enter the house, the fire then has more oxygen to feed off of and spread more quickly throughout the house.
The temperature of fire during a flashover can reach a maximum temperature of 3000°F-3500°F.
Types Of Damage
The damage a fire can do to a person’s body and the house itself isn’t just limited to fire damage. In fact, smoke damage can be just as harmful in a number of different ways.
Of course the main danger created by the flames is the heat exuded from them. It’s the heat that causes other parts of the house to combust and the structures holding the building up to collapse.
The smoke given off by the flames is often the result of burning some kind of synthetic materials and so is poisonous. Even a few breaths of this dangerous smoke is enough to knock a person out, leaving them at the mercy of the fire. That’s why it’s so important to evacuate quickly.
However, the smoke also does damage to the rest of the house. Even if the fire is extinguished by firefighters before the structural integrity of the house is compromised, smoke can still damage unburnt rooms.
Smoke will leave soot and black stains on every bit of furniture, carpet, wall and ceiling it touches, often leaving them irreversibly damaged.
Different Burning Temperatures In A House Fire
As you probably already know, the temperature inside a house fire will be different at different points of the house based on the way heat travels and the materials that are burning.
The most important thing to remember is that heat rises, so the hottest point of the room in a house fire will be around the ceiling. At the ceiling, the temperature can reach as high as 1500°F, which is enough to do serious damage through burns to your skin and lungs.
The safest way to travel through a burning room is to get as close to the floor as possible.
Temperatures around the floor can be around 100°F, which is certainly enough to make you uncomfortable if you stay there too long but is easily survivable and will give you the best chance of being able to evacuate.
It’s also worth noting that smoke rises in a house fire too, meaning it will pool around the ceiling where most of the heat is.
Because smoke is so dangerous to people’s lungs during a house fire, it’s also best to get as low as possible to avoid breathing it in. Essentially, the first thing you should do if you’re in a room with a fire is get on the ground and crawl towards the nearest exit.
Wood is a pretty common material throughout houses. In the modern day, it’s not used so much for building structural integrity, but it still makes up a lot of furniture in a common home.
Wood has a maximum flame temperature of 1800°F, meaning it’s often not the hottest material during a house fire.
This material is much more commonly used in constructing structural support in a house, largely because of its strength and fire resistance. Steel is not a flammable material and will therefore not provide a source for flames to spread.
The melting point of steel is around 2500°F-2800°F, which is well above the average temperature of a house fire.
You may remember that the maximum temperature of a flashover during a house fire can be up to 3500°F, however this temperature won’t persist for long enough for it to do enough damage to steel structures.
These two are some of the most commonly used materials for constructing the walls of a house, that’s why we’ve grouped them together.
According to official home construction regulations, they are considered a combustible material because they are made with a substance called gypsum which is pressed between two sheets of paper.
These paper sheets are what make the material combustible and they will burn in the same way any sheet of paper would, at a maximum of around 1500°F.
The gypsum material itself is not flammable, as it has water incorporated into its structure.
Therefore, the fire has to get through the water by evaporating it, thus slowing down the transfer of heat through the wall. Of course, once the water has evaporated and the gypsum is heated to any great degree, it will also start to burn.
Pretty much every house in the world has glass windows which can easily be damaged in a house fire.
However, the glass itself can not provide a source for the fire to spread and will simply melt if enough heat is applied to it. The melting point of most household glass windows is 1400°F-1600°F.
This is also around the maximum temperature reached in a house fire so it is common for glass to melt during a fire.
There are a number of different types of plastic that can be found around any house, all with different burning and melting points. Almost every type of plastic will melt before it can be ignited, and will melt around 200°F-500°F.
However, even once melted, these plastics can ignite and provide a source for flames to travel across them and to other parts of the house. The ignition point for plastics can be anywhere from 750°F-1100°F.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Hot Is Smoke From A Fire?
The smoke that is produced from a fire is the result of volatile hydrocarbons evaporating from the source material. This smoke vaporizes around a temperature of 300°F. However, if even more heat is applied to these compounds, they can also burst into flame themselves.
How Hot Do Building Fires Get?
During a building fire, heat will rise to the top, making the area around the ceiling the hottest point inside. At the floor, where it’s coolest, temperatures can be around 100°F, which is still fairly hot but definitely survivable.
Meanwhile, the area around the ceiling can be up to 1500°F, which is a seriously dangerous temperature for the building and anyone inside it.
Also, during many building fires, exploding gases create something called a flashover, which is caused by a rapid ignition of gas and can reach temperatures momentarily up to 3500°F.
If you were wondering how hot house fires could get, you now know. With the lowest point usually being around 100°F and the highest point during a flashover being as high as 3500°F, there’s a massive amount of range in different parts of a house fire.
If you ever find yourself in the midst of a house fire, always make sure you stay as close to the floor as possible while trying to escape, as this will help you to avoid the dangerously high temperatures overhead.
Similarly, call the fire department as soon as possible. The longer it takes for them to arrive at the scene, the less chance there is of them saving your house.
As we said at the start, we hope nobody reading this ever has to experience something as tragic as a house fire. However, if it happens to you, it’s much better to be prepared than not.