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Your home is on fire…you start smelling smoke and something burning. What is the first thing you should do? How much time do you have to escape, minutes, seconds? What’s more dangerous: Flames or smoke? Separating fire myths from the facts can save your life.

Did you know that a small flame can take as little as 30 seconds to erupt into a full-blown fire? Following last week’s disastrous Salawa Army Camp Fire, we thought it is appropriate to educate you on the Facts and myths about fire and safety For Your Information.

Myth: Flames cause the most casualties during a fire.
Fact: Typically, it’s the smoke that injures or kills. In as little as three to five minutes, smoke can fill a house and create complete darkness, even during daylight. Thick smoke, full of toxic by-products (carbon monoxide and fumes from the materials used to make your furnishing), can quickly leave you choking, disoriented or unconscious.

Myth: You have about five minutes to escape a house fire.
Fact: Once a fire starts, get out immediately. A small flame can turn into a major fire in less than 30 seconds. A home fire can double in size every minute. In three minutes, a fire can burn so hot that it ignites everything at once. This is referred to as a flashover.

Myth: In a fire, the smell of smoke will alert you in time.
Fact: Most fatal fires occur at night, when people are rarely awoken by smoke. Even if they are, fire and smoke have probably spread so far by then as to make escape difficult. A smoke alarm – on every floor and ideally outside every bedroom – is your best chance of early warning.

Myth: If fire fighters haven’t arrived yet and someone is trapped inside, go back in to rescue them.
Fact: If someone inside is in danger, you will be too if you re-enter a burning house or building – and you’ll make the fire fighters’ job that much tougher. Once you’re out, stay out.

Myth: People always panic in a fire.
Fact: A second commonly-held myth holds that people will panic in the event of fire. Even many fire protection engineers believe this to be the case. But research shows the contrary: Most people make quite rational decisions in the face of adverse circumstances.
Researchers JD Sime and G Proulx, in studies of a British subway station, refute this myth. They call for the provision of good information to maximize evacuation efficiency, believing that emergency procedures should be designed so that people will start to move safely, if given proper instructions in the early stages of a fire. Additional research by G Ramachandran suggests that it is stress – often caused by lack of information – which may cause people to act inappropriately in a fire; but rarely do they panic and behave irrationally.

Myth: Alarms sound before a fire
Fact: Another common myth is that smoke detectors sound an alarm ‘before the fire starts’.
This notion has a magical air, somehow suggesting that certain detectors have intelligence or premonition. If only we could link this capability through ‘expert systems’ to fire prevention programs! We’d save huge amounts of money spent on all the other fire protection systems.

The reality is that some detectors can detect fires in the incipient or smouldering phase, before flames break out. Important here is work by Y Okayama, T Ito and T Sasaki in Japan on the use of neutral nets to detect very early fire signatures. Two particular points are worth noting. First, while fire detectors based on optical principles may detect smouldering fires at an earlier stage, other devices (such as ionization detectors) often outperform the optical detectors in flaming fires. Second, in either case, performance depends on fuel type and the particle size and colour spectrum of the smoke produced.