Inferno: Ten Facts You Should Know About Fire

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fire_flame_facts_top_tenFire can be a beautiful thing to behold; knowing how to make fire is an essential skill that kick-started the next phase of human evolution, and it’s been keeping us alive ever since. As majestic as it is, fire is equally dangerous and will become deadly if unprepared. Fire can cross your path in several forms: As a way to create warmth; to send a signal; to prepare food and boil water; it can be as simple as lighting a cigarette or a campfire, or you can be faced with the wrong end of a ranging forest fire.

By Alex Coyne, a contributing author of Survival Cache & SHTFBlog

Here’s what you should know about fire…

The three elements of fire.

This is basic high school science, yet something a lot of people discard when in an emergency. Fire needs heat, fuel and an oxidizing agent to burn. This is known as the Fire Triangle, and it’s vital when you’re making a fire or trying to kill one. (Fire needs 16% oxygen to burn; the air around us contains approximately 21%).

Have a fire starter kit.

Fire starter kits are cheap and there are thousands available for order on the internet; take a look at some of the options on and make sure that you have one as part of your survival kit. You’d rather have it and not need it, right?

If you make your own fire starters, do it carefully.

Many frugal survivalists prefer to make their own fire starter kits at home instead of buying them. That’s great, as long as you do it safely. (One of the most disastrous examples I’ve seen was an enthusiast who made his own portable kit in a small tin, then placed it next to the fire: It heated up, and the results should be relatively obvious. Store combustibles safely. It’s fire. Be careful).

Read Also: PureFire Tactical Survival Fire Starter

Don’t rely on matches.

Matches are a go-to for many avid campers, but it could also be their biggest mistake. Yes, there are ways to light wet matches – take a look at this article on WikiHow to see how – but that is not a chance you can afford to take when it’s your survival being put at risk. You’ll very likely be safer with a flint fire starter kit.

Certain woods are poisonous when burned.

poison_sumacKnow how to identify different types of woods, and know which are poisonous when burned. Novice fire starters often collect any wood they can find for their fire, only to be told by the locals later that they should have stayed away from it – or, in the worst-case scenario, serious illness or death occurs. Some include Elder wood, poison Sumac, and poison oak. Illness or death can occur from fumes, and any food prepared over a poison-wood fire could kill you.

Know how to treat a burn.

Common remedies for treating a burn include the application of some sort of fat or oil: Mayonnaise, butter, cooking oil or margarine. DON’T. This literally adds fuel to the burn, and it can lead to anything from infection to grilling your burn wound like a steak. Emergency guides generally recommend immediate cooling of the burn until help can be found – cold, sterile water. Have burn gel as part of your emergency kit, always.

Putting out fires are different.

Depending on what kind of fire you’re looking at, the way you put it out differs. Never grab the nearest thing and throw it on the fire; in many cases, that’s going to be an accelerant like alcohol, petrol or paraffin. (Also, never pour water on an oil fire. You’ll turn a fire into an inferno). Have a fire extinguisher handy, and keep baking soda and sand nearby. Remember how fire has three elements? Remove its oxygen.

Related: Six Steps to Harden Your Home Against Fire

Don’t forget smoke inhalation.

top_facts_smoke_fireIn most house and forest fires, the cause of death isn’t being burned alive, but smoke inhalation. Symptoms can include a dry cough, dizziness, nausea and potentially coughing up blood. Go down, because heat travels upwards and smoke tends to be less dense at the bottom. Fire can also be dangerous in other ways, like falling debris and burning embers.

Burnt food is carcinogenic; keep an eye on that fire!

Hone your barbeque skills at home when you’re not in a survival situation: Learn the tricks behind fish versus chicken versus beef; you can even bake on an open fire if you know how. Keep in mind that when food burns, acrylamide forms – this is a carcinogenic and obviously dangerous to your health.

Putting out camp and food fires are essential.

Put simply and in the words of an anthropomorphic bear, only you can prevent forest fires. Always make sure your fire is properly extinguished (and a fire that looks dead isn’t always), never leave a fire unattended and don’t put your tents, sleeping bags, gear or combustibles too close to the fire. Sand is your best friend for putting out smaller fires, so always keep a bucket or two nearby.

Send us your best fire starting tips for in the field (or at home) through the comments.

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Video: Surviving a Building Fire

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Joe Alton, MD’s latest video discusses some tragic building fires, especially in public venues. He examines what happens in a fire, how fire behaves, and what you can do to increase your chances of surviving the conflagration.


To watch, click below:



Wishing you the best of health in good times or bad,


Joe Alton, MD



Find out more about house fires, wildfires, burns, and much more in Joe and Amy Alton’s Third Edition of the Survival Medicine Handbook: The Essential Guide for When Medical Help is Not on the Way, available at Amazon.

6 Ways to Survive a House Fire.

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Survive a House FireHaving spent many years either as both a fireman and an arson investigator, I have been inside many burning buildings. Since I worked at a state level, I put on training classes for locals and had the opportunity to start fires in many building that were scheduled to be destroyed.  I have probably been involved in the burning of as many as 50 buildings in various training scenarios.

During this time, I have spent time in burning buildings both with and without breathing apparatus. What I want to write on today is how to exit a burning structure. The situation that is of most concern is waking up in the night to a fire. You are sleepy and not fully alert. If you are lucky, your smoke detector has alerted you early in the progress of the fire. With children in the home, an alarm that has a voice recording option is best.

The first thing that many people do once they realize their home is on fire is to sit up in bed. This can be a major mistake because, as we all knowi, heat and smoke rise. Instead, have a plan to roll out of bed and stay low on the floor unit you can determine the situation. Don’t make the mistake of sticking your head up into what could be smoke and hot gases. Smoke in a house fire can contain some very nasty poisons and should be avoided if possible. The temperature between floor level and ceiling height can be as much as several hundred degrees.

Hopefully, prior to the fire, you have planned an escape route and know your way outside. For myself, even if I am spending the night in a hotel or someone else’s home, I plan an escape route.

If you wake up in a fire, get on the floor and crawl to your exit point. If you have to open doors, use the back of your hand to feel and see if the door is hot from fire on the other side. If you live on a second floor, plan on how you will be able to reach the ground and how your kids will reach the ground. You can buy fire escape ladders that work well. If you are in a high rise, do not use the elevators. In some cases, the fire shorts out the elevator buttons and the elevator will go to the fire floor and the doors will open, leaving you trapped.

Set off your smoke detectors late at night and see if they will wake your children. In many cases, children will sleep through them. If this happens, talk to a local alarm company about getting a system with a louder bell. If you have children, make sure you have fire drills, teach them what to do.

If you have a fire extinguisher and make the decision to fight the fire, always make sure that someone has dialed 911 and leave yourself an escape route.

One of the most important things to do is to have a meeting place to gather to make sure everyone got out. I have seen a father die going back into a house to rescue a daughter who was standing outside on the opposite side of the house. The meeting place can be as simple as the light pole across the street.

A few minutes thought and training can be the difference between life and death for you or one of your family members.


The post 6 Ways to Survive a House Fire. appeared first on Preparedness Advice.

Preparing For Wildfires

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After experiencing a hellish wildfire season last summer and fall in the U.S., a huge conflagration in the Canadian province of Alberta has us thinking again of wildfire preparedness. The wildfire in our northern neighbor’s territory has burned 400,000 acres so far and destroyed or damaged 1600 buildings. Two have died in a car crash while attempting to escape the flames, which has caused the evacuation of 100,000 people. The grid is damaged, the water undrinkable, and even local firefighters are seeing their homes burn to the ground.

In a news conference today, authorities state that, although the spread has slowed, the fire might continue to burn for months and threatens the neighboring province of Saskatchewan. The region affected is the heart of Canada’s oil industry, with the third-largest reserves in the world. A quarter of the country’s oil production has been suspended, leaving questions about the effect the natural disaster will have on Canada’s economy.

Many people are concerned about disasters that threaten their way of life, and wildfires should be high on the list in many areas. But how can you protect your property from being devastated by fire? Two main principles are 1) vegetation management and 2) creating a “defensible space”.




vegetation management is key to fire protection


An important factor in protecting your home is what we call “vegetation management”. With vegetation management, the key is to direct fires away from your house. There are several ways to accomplish this, all of which require vigilance and regular maintenance.


You’ll want to clean up dead wood and leaf piles lying on the ground close to your buildings and off the roofs and gutters. Although you may have spent time and money putting lush landscaping around your home, you may have to remove some of the vegetation close to the structure. Some people place thorny bushes by windows to deter home invaders, but these would have to go if your concern is fire protection.


You’ll want to thin out those thick canopied trees near your house, making sure that no two canopies touch each other. Any trees within 50 feet on flatland, or 200 feet if downhill from your retreat needs to be thinned, so that you’re pruning branches off below 10-12 feet high, and separating them by 10-20 feet. No tree should overhang the roof. Also, eliminate all shrubs at the base of the trunks.


Lawns and gardens should be well-hydrated; collect lawn cuttings and other debris that could be used as fuel by the fire. If water is limited, keep dry lawns cut back as much as possible (or remove them).




From a wildfire perspective, a defensible space is an area around a structure where wood and vegetation are treated, cleared, or reduced to slow the spread of flames towards a structure. Having a defensible space will also provide room to work for those fighting the fire.


If you’re building a home in an area where wildfires are common, consider the materials that your retreat is made of. How much fire resistance does your structure have? A wood frame home with wooden shingles will go up like a match in a wildfire. You should try to build as much flame resistance into your forest retreat as possible.


The amount of defensible space you’ll need depends on whether you’re on flat land or on a steep slope. Flatland fires spread more slowly than a fire on a slope (hot air and flames rise). A fire on a steep slope with wind blowing uphill spreads fast and produces “spot fires”. These are small fires that ignite vegetation ahead of the main burn, due to small bits of burning debris in the air.


Woodpiles and other flammables should be located at least 20-30 feet away from structures. Gardening tools should be kept in sheds, and those sheds should be at a distance from the home.  Concrete walkways and perimeter walls may serve to impede the progress of the fire.


Attic and other vents should be covered with screen mesh to prevent small embers from entering the structure. Additional strategies can be found at




Of course, once you have created a defensible space, the natural inclination is to want to, well, defend it. Unfortunately, you have to remember that you’ll be in the middle of a lot of heat and smoke. Therefore, you’re probably not going to be able to function effectively unless you’re an Olympic athlete. It stands to reason that most of us will not be up to the task.


The safest recommendation, therefore, would be to get out of Dodge if there’s a safe way out. It’s a personal decision but your family’s lives depend on it, so be realistic. If you’re leaving, have that bug-out bag already in the car, as well as any important papers you might need to keep and some cash.


Before leaving, make sure you shut off any air conditioning system that draws air into the house from outside. Turn off all your appliances, close all your windows and lock all your doors. Like any other emergency, you should have some form of communication established with your loved ones so that you can contact each other. Make sure your medical kit contains some eyewash; smoke is a major irritant to the eyes.




If your routes of escape are blocked, make sure you’re dressed in long pants, sleeves, and heavy boots. A wool blanket is very helpful as an additional outside layer because wool is relatively fire-resistant. If you don’t have wool blankets, this is a good time to add some to your storage, or keep some in your car.


If you’re in a building, stay on the side of the building farthest from the fire with the least number of windows (windows transfer heat to the inside). Stay there unless you have to leave due to smoke or the building catching fire. If that’s the case and you have to leave, wrap yourself in that blanket, leaving only your eyes uncovered. Some people think it’s a good idea to wet the blanket first. Don’t! Wet materials transfer heat much faster than dry materials and will cause more severe burns.


If you’re having trouble breathing because of the smoke, stay low, and crawl out of the building if you have to. There’s less smoke and heat the lower you go.Keep your face down towards the floor. This will help protect your airway, which is very important. You can recover from burns on your skin, but not from major burns in your lungs. For some more information about smoke inhalation, click this link to a short article:




If you’re building a home in an area where wildfires are common, consider the materials that your retreat is made of. How much fire resistance does your structure have? A wood frame home with wooden shingles will go up like a match in a wildfire. You should try to build as much flame resistance into your forest retreat as possible.


You might consider building with Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs). These are polystrene blocks made to fit together. Filled with concrete, ICFs create solid insulation that locks out sound, weather, and gives some fire resistance. Mostly used in commercial buildings and schools, constructing a home with ICFs cost a little more, but is superior to wood.


Flame-resistant roofing and siding is important, also. Asphalt shingles are used in most roofs, but there’s a fiberglass variety that offers better fire resistance. Decking can also be fire-resistant if constructed with Class A composite materials made from PVC and wood fiber. Windows using heat-reflective glass reduce the  heat that  enters your home in a wildfire. The heat-reflective coating acts to reduce up to 90 percent of the heat. Metal or fiber cement siding is superior to wood or vinyl products. As you might imagine, all these fire-proofing strategies come at an increased cost.


Wildfires and other catastrophes, whether natural or man-made, can threaten your life and the lives of your loved ones. Planning before the event will give you the best shot at getting through them in the best shape possible.


Joe Alton, MD

Learn more about wildfire safety plus how to deal with many other events that threaten your survival with The Survival Medicine Handbook, with 300 5-star reviews on Amazon!

House Fire, smoke inhalation and burn care!

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House Fire, smoke inhalation and burn care!
Cat Ellis “Herbal Prepper Live

House Fire FRFD TrucksA couple of months ago, our smoke detectors went off. I didn’t think much about it at first, as they had only ever done that when one of their batteries was near dead. Then the doorbell rang, and the elderly man who lives on the first floor of our house yelled through our intercom to get out, there was a fire.

I had just finished working out when the alarms went off. I had just ordered the kids to grab their emergency bags and get out, when my husband had come running up three flights of stairs from the basement to get us. The smoke was already all the way up to the third floor in the stairwell. It was so dark from the smoke, we could barely see. And as we got closer to the first floor and the fire, it got harder to breathe.

House Fire Grease fire 1st floorFor someone with a bad knee, I hustled it down those stairs as fast as I could. My husband had to carry our daughter. Even though we had run fire drills, she froze at the sight of the smoke at the top of the stairs. My husband went back in to get the elderly woman on the first floor. She was still trying to put the fire out. It didn’t click in her head that it was time to leave.

House Fire Damage through ceilingThankfully, the fire was put out quickly and didn’t get an opportunity to travel through the walls of the house. Thankfully, the only injuries were minor smoke inhalation (my husband), and some minor burns (the elderly tenant on the 1st floor).

You prepare for emergencies. That’s what preppers do. But, sometimes it takes an emergency to show you where the holes in your plans are. We found some major holes in our plans. We also did some things exactly right. We were extremely lucky, though, that this was only a minor housefire. We got to learn a lot without any major injuries or worse.

Let me share with you what we learned going through this experience, what we have changed as a result, plus some thoughts on dealing with smoke inhalation and burn care. Let our experience help you get better prepared for a house fire.
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