Smoke is No Joke: Smoke Health Hazards

after a fire or flood

When a fire breaks out in a home, fire safety experts estimate that you have, on average, about two to three minutes to escape. Why? Find out why fires escalate so quickly, what smoke inhalation does to your body, and what lasting damage is done when a house fire is not quickly contained.

Timeline of a Fire

after a fire or flood

We just had a fire in our home. How quickly do I need to contact a restoration service after a fire or flood?

The Starting Point: Ignition

Approximately 50% of house fires start in the kitchen, so let’s pretend your bacon grease spilled over onto the gas burner and ignites. Poof! In a few hundredths of a second, you’ve got a fire!

The First 30 Seconds

Fires spread very quickly, especially if you have oil or flammable residue on the nearby surfaces. Combustible materials catch fire, and soon smoke is being produced. This is when you need to smother the fire with a flame retardant blanket intended for fire fighting or put it out with a fire extinguisher. If you don’t get the fire under control within the first 30 seconds to one minute, you are likely to have significant damage to your home.

(Remember: never use water on an electrical or cooking fire, as it can spread the flames or cause electric shock. This is why we highly recommend every household invests in a fire extinguisher.)

30 Seconds to 1 Minute

An unchecked fire will grow both higher and hotter, expanding to include nearby combustible materials. A large plume of smoke that will rise up to and across the ceiling, beginning to fill the room.

60 Seconds to 2 Minutes

Carbon monoxide levels will increase dramatically as the smoke accumulates in the room and the fire spreads into adjacent rooms and enters the vents. Depending on how open your floor plan is and the size of the affected room, at this point, you may need to stoop or even crawl to get under the smoke and access breathable air.

2 to 3 Minutes

By the third moment, your kitchen combustibles (cabinets, wooden shelves, etc.) are on fire. , and countertops are being consumed by the fire. The temperature in the upper layer of hot gas reaches 400 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hot enough to kill you. The smoke is now dense enough that it hovers close to the floor, and it is increasingly toxic to inhale. It is advisable to cover your mouth and nose with your shirt or a handkerchief as you crawl to escape.

3 to 4 Minutes

In a matter of 3.5 minutes, a fire can reach temperatures as high as 1100 degrees Fahrenheit. At this high temperature, materials that you typically do not think of as flammable can catch fire; this is the temperature range when flashover occurs during this period of time. Fashover is a term that means oxygen is sucked out of the room and things like windows may shatter from the extreme heat and change in air pressure. This when flames travel most quickly, raging through the house.

4 Minutes to 5 Minutes

By this point, flames can be seen from the street. This is all the time it takes for a full-blown house fire to occur.

Smoke and Your Health

Obviously, a full-blown house fire is a devastating event that will destroy your home. But what about a contained fire? What about smoke damage?

Here’s where we see people make mistakes that affect their long term health. Let’s say your kitchen catches on fire, but somewhere around minute 3, you contain the fire yourself. Sure, the ceiling and cabinets are blackened, but, relieved that you actually put out the fire before the fire department arrived, you think, it’s not a big deal. I’ll scrub the ceiling and cabinets, and we’ll be fine.

But here’s the problem: smoke damage is more than aesthetically unpleasing. A house fire often includes the burning of materials that should not be burned or inhaled. Your cabinets are finished with varnish that should not be burned and inhaled; your laminate or faux countertops release chemicals when heated to high temperatures that should not be inhaled. You will quickly notice that, even with windows open and fans blowing, even with much scrubbing and cleaning, your family is dealing with headaches and irritated airways.

This is because high temperatures and burning of many materials results in toxins being released into the air. The dangerous elements of these solids, liquids, and gasses become airborne via smoke particles. Heat opens the pores of many materials in the room, trapping chemicals and toxins (plus the smell of smoke) in the very pores of your carpet, drywall, upholstery and wooden surfaces.

That smokey odor lingering in your home indicates that those toxins particles remain in the air that your family is breathing day in and day out. This can lead to lead to respiratory issues (i.e., asthma, emphysema and bronchitis), stroke, heart attack, cancer, or premature infant death. Smoke damage is related to many health problems, and must be removed entirely.

Smoke and Your Home’s Resale Value

Not only are health problems an issue, but resale value is understandably negatively affected. What is the first thing a potential buyer notices when they step into your home? The smell. That’s why realtors suggest baking cookies or bread before you leave for an open house. Learn more about why smoke odors are so easily trapped in your home and what you can do about.

Need Help With Smoke Damage? In the Charlotte Area?

Give us a call and let us know how extensive the damage was. E.R. Services does not provide restoration services, but we can put you in touch with a reputable company that does. They can help you determine the most cost-effective and health-conscious way to mitigate the smoke damage, protecting your family from health problems.

Article Summary

Quick question & answer: How fast does a fire spread?

Damage caused by a kitchen fire depends on how fast the fire spreads. Within 30 seconds, smoke begins and for the next 30 seconds, the fire gains both height and heat. By 2 minutes, carbon monoxide levels have increased. By 3 minutes, cabinets are likely on fire. At minute 5, flames can be seen from the street.

Quick question & answer: How serious is smoke damage?

Health issues related to smoke can be debilitating, especially lung and breathing related health problems plus the inevitable headaches that are associated with smoke.

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