When you think about tough jobs, what do you think of? It’s possible that you think of the firefighter. Dealing with burning buildings is a particularly complicated thing for firefighters.
The heat isn’t the only issue - house fires can result in a loss of life, as you already know. But how exactly do you manage a fire breakout in your home, and how hot will a house fire get?
The short answer is that your average house fire can get to temperatures of a whopping 1500 degrees Fahrenheit.
For our European readers, that’s 815 degrees celsius. The temperature is usually the hottest right next to the ceiling because the heat can rise. The temperature is still incredibly hot on the floor though.
In reality, house fires happen quite a lot but that doesn’t make them any less dangerous. Even firefighters aren’t immune to the danger of a house fire. As such, we’re going to take a deep dive into how hot your average house fire can get.
In addition to that, we will also cover a few of the things that can influence how hot the fire gets, and what things you should do when a fire breaks out in your house.
The Typical House Fire
Let’s just make one thing perfectly clear. When a fire breaks out, the heat will rise. The same goes for the smoke. The impact that the fire has can be affected by both of these things. Essentially, the lowest level of heat will be the area by your feet.
This temperature can still get to around 100 degrees, sometimes even hotter than this. It’s certainly not fun to stand in it, and it may even burn you if you are exposed to it for too long.
Then the fire gets to your eye level. By the time it reaches this height, the heat will be around 600 degrees. It’s incredibly hot, much hotter than your average oven in your kitchen.
All hell has broken loose by the time that the heat reaches your ceiling. It can become as high as 1500 degrees - that is no small number! Some pretty frightening things can happen when it gets this hot.
For instance, your clothes will likely melt onto your skin, and your lungs can burn when you are breathing in heat at this temperature. It’s incredibly dangerous. It’s the main reason why you will often be advised to keep low if you are caught in a higher.
It means that there’s less smoke going into your lungs and the heat is a little more bearable, even if only by a small amount.
Raising the Temperature
So now you may be wondering ‘wait, is it possible for it to get hotter than 1500 degrees?
Oh yes it can!
If the right circumstances exist, a typical house can manage to get to highs of 2,000 degrees. This isn’t normal in most cases, but it certainly can happen.
Things can get even worse if your house is jam packed with flammable materials. For instance, if your home is full of things like propane tanks then your house can get much, much hotter than this.
Add a little bit of propane to the equation and your meagre house fire can grow to a massive 3,500 degrees.
Basically, if your house is ever to catch fire then you really should get any flammable materials out of your home if possible, since it minimizes the risk to your family members.
Of course, it’s pretty much impossible for a person to live if they’re caught in temperatures over 1500 degrees, so if it gets to 2000 or beyond you’re pretty much toast. It’s always better safe than sorry.
Things can get a lot worse if something called a ‘flashover occurs.’ A flashover causes much more risk than the heat and smoke that may seem the most obvious.
So, what is a flashover? They’re basically events in a fire that can massively increase the rate at which the fire grows. At this point, the fire will take over your entire house.
It tends to occur as a result of thermal radiation in closed spaces. It tends to happen when the upper levels of the room get to around 1,100 degrees.
Basically, it happens when your room gets to unimaginably hot levels, and there are lots of gases that are easily combustible being created thanks to the activity of the fire.
You’ll eventually get to a point where the gases are rising when they get to the proper temperature, and they will ignite everything in the room on fire, so long as there’s still a bit of oxygen at the ground level.
So if you have a kitchen fire, you’ll go from your stove being on fire to eventually every single object igniting. It happens incredibly quickly too, so it’s imperative that you get out.
Flashovers are even more dangerous since they can smash things like doors and windows.
Thanks to this, a lot more fresh air can get into the room. Fires thrive on oxygen, meaning the flames get stronger and last for much longer. Again, it gets hotter and hotter, and pretty soon your entire house has caught fire.
So, What’s the Damage?
Your next question may be how much damage a house fire can cause.
In a best case scenario, you will see the fire and do as much as possible to control it. In these situations, the fire probably won’t cause a massive amount of damage to your home. (Oh, and don’t control any fires that are out of your control - call 911 immediately and speak to the fire department, getting out of the house as soon as possible)
Things tend to get a little dicey if you don’t deal with it quickly enough. All it takes is around 30 seconds for a baby flame to become an uncontrollable, very dangerous inferno. If you wait just a few minutes longer, there could be a very serious risk to your life at play.
Fires will usually cause two main kinds of damage in your home. The first is obvious - fire damage. You will also get smoke damage though.
If it experiences fire damage, it means that most of the materials in your home will burn and smoulder - in some cases it may even result in a flashover.
You could end up dealing with damages to the structure, such as roofs that could collapse, and your sewer and power services could get damaged.
Unfortunately, smoke damage isn’t a lesser of two evils - it can cause just as many problems. Your entire house could end up being covered in oily soot, and this is almost impossible to get rid of.
Not only that, but it’s the smoke that will cause the biggest problem for people. If you breathe in too much smoke then you could end up suffocating. Breathing in smoke is significantly more likely to end up killing you than the heat.
What Should I Do When My House Is On Fire?
First of all, stay calm. It’s hard, but panicking may mean that it’s harder for you to make the right decisions.
As soon as you notice the fire, immediately call 911 or an alternative emergency number. Acting quickly is imperative for your safety and minimizing the damage.
Make sure that you are down low if you are caught in the fire, crawling underneath the smoke. As we have mentioned, the heat and the smoke will rise, so you are much safer if you are on the floor.
When trying to find a door handle, feel for it carefully. Don’t open the door if the handle is hot or you notice smoke coming around the door. Look for a different way out. If it’s fine to enter then open the door slowly.
In the event that you notice flames or a lot of smoke when opening the door, you should shut it again and look for another way out.
If your pets or any other people are still inside of the building, you should tell the firefighters about it when they get to the scene as they will be best equipped to save them.
If you are trapped, make sure that you shut all of the doors to the room, cover up cracks, vents or any other gaps with things like cloth or clothing. Again, call 911 if you haven’t already.
If you end up catching fire, immediately stop, drop to the ground and roll. Do not stay in the heat and smoke, as this can cause even more damage.
What If I Have Limited Mobility?
If you have limited mobility, then it’s a good idea to take precautions in the event of a fire. For instance, try to keep your living areas close to an exit. Sleeping on the ground floor can be a good idea if possible, especially if it’s difficult for you to get down the stairs.
If you have a walker or a wheelchair, you should double check that you can fit them between all of the doors existing between you and the exit.
If your doorways or ramps need to be widened for you to get out, you should try to do this as soon as possible.
Do some practice fire drills if possible with family or anyone else that you can trust. Also, speak to your local fire department and request that they note your requirements. Make sure that you are always close to a phone in case of an emergency.
So, in answer to the question of how hot does a house fire get? Basically, they can get incredibly hot. You may not even have a lot of things that will burn at high temperatures, as is the case in many homes, but even in this case temperatures can get to 1500 degrees and sometimes higher.
For context, this level of heat can result in your clothing melting onto your skin. Your lungs can end up burning when you are breathing in the air at this heat, not to mention the level of smoke that would likely be present at these kinds of temperatures.
Thankfully for all of us, the heat will rise. If you ever get caught in a building that is burning, it’s possible to get away from the heat as long as you remain as low as possible as you try to get out.
If you are caught in a fire, stop, drop to the ground and crawl out to avoid getting the worst of the heat and dealing with the inhalation of excessive smoke.
Again, if you are caught in a burning building, call 911 immediately to get assistance from the fire department. Some small fires can be managed by people, but some are simply too big for the average person to handle without the proper equipment available to them.
If you have any mobility concerns or any other worries, always speak to the fire department in advance for more information. Taking precautions can save lives, so it’s better to ask questions than to put yourself in a dangerous situation.