You come home from foraging wild strawberries and discover that your kitchen is on fire! What do you do? Well, attempt to put it out I hope. However, do you know that not all fires are alike? Are you aware that putting water on grease fires will actually make it worse? Currently, you are probably living near emergency services who will come out when called and put out your fire for you. But what if you are not living within distance of trained firefighters? What if SHTF and you are on your own? Would you know what to do if you stumbled upon a fire?
Fire Chemistry Makes A Triangle
You were probably hoping that you would never have to hear that word chemistry ever again! Sorry, in this insistent it is really important to understand what makes up a fire if you want to defeat it. In order for the chemical reaction that makes “fire” to occur it needs three elements. These three elements are: heat, fuel, and oxygen. We refer to these three elements as the fire triangle. Now here is the really important part; if any of the three elements of the fire triangle are taken away or missing, the fire will be either extinguished or would have never occurred. So, what are the roles that each element plays with in the fire triangle to create a fire?
Heat: Heat is vital to elevate temperature. Once the material reaches a high enough temperature the ignition begins.
Fuel: Fire needs some kind of fuel to get itself started. This fuel could come in the form of: liquid, solid, or gas. Understanding what type of fuel is feeding the fire is vital in determining what will be used to extinguish it.
Oxygen: Just like us, fires need oxygen to live. Fires are happy with any amount of oxygen above 20%. However, if no oxygen is present, the fuel that would have caught on fire will instead just be heated until completely vaporized.
Fuels That Make Fires aka Classes of Fire
Depending upon what type of fuel is burning will determine what class the fire will be placed in. Knowing what class your particular fire situation is in will help you in fighting it and ultimately extinguishing it. Remember that kitchen fire when you returned home from searching for plants that you did not know were edible? Before you reach for that garden hose you better determine what type of fuel might be making this fire burn hence, what class it could be in.
Class A Fire: Average combustibles such as: wood, paper, cloth, rubber, and plastics. Note: these particular fires don’t need but a little spark to start back up again.
Class B Fire: Combustible liquids such as kerosene and flammable liquids such as gasoline. With these classes of fires only the surface or vapors will burn due to oxygen not being able to get to the depth of the liquid.
Class C Fire: Electrical equipment with current traveling through it such as with motors. However, if the electricity is turned off this fire becomes a Class A Fire.
Class D Fire: Materials that are combustible such as magnesium.
Class K Fire: Oils used for cooking such as animal fats.
What To Use To Fight A Fire
Most likely you will be using a type of portable fire extinguisher to put out any relatively small fire that you might stumble across. There are four types of portable fire extinguishers:
- Dry Chemical
- Carbon Dioxide
- Specialized Fire Extinguishers
Class A (Average solid materials): Can be put out using water or a fire extinguisher that releases foam or a dry chemical.
Class B (Flammable fluids): Use a fire extinguisher capable of either foam, dry chemical, or CO2.
Class C (Electrical): Use a fire extinguisher that releases either a dry chemical or CO2. If you are using a fire extinguisher on a electrical fire be sure that it contains the letter C on it stating that it is safe to use on electrical fires.
Class D (Combustible metals): This type of fire requires special agents to put it out.
Class K (Kitchen oils): This type of fire requires a fire extinguisher that uses a chemical.
Final Thoughts Before Fighting A Fire
All fire extinguishers have labels on them that let the user know what class(es) of fire that a particular extinguisher is capable of fighting. So, back to your kitchen fire. You remembered that you had left some hot oil on the stove therefore, the fuel for this fire is kitchen oil. You have yourself a grease fire. Do you want to put water from the garden hose on that grease fire? No, you do not! Never put water on a grease or kitchen oil fire. Putting water on a fire that is being fueled by kitchen oil will only cause the oil (which is on fire) to be spread around resulting into a even larger fire. Instead, use a fire extinguisher that has a label stating that it extinguishes Class K fires.
Understanding what makes a fire and the best method for extinguishing it is vital especially if the SHTF. Again, for so long we have counted on and depended upon emergency services being there when we need them. However, when the “big one” finally hits, there will not be enough emergency services to help everyone. Therefore, acquiring the knowledge to fight (smaller) fires is key to surviving in a SHTF world.