Plastic fires can be a dangerous and alarming situation. The intense heat and toxic fumes from burning plastic can pose significant risks to people and the environment.
If you ever encounter a plastic fire, it is crucial to act swiftly and effectively to minimize the damage and ensure everyone’s safety.
In this blog, we will explore some essential tips and techniques to help you confidently and efficiently tackle a plastic fire.
So, without further ado, let’s delve into the world of fire safety and discover how to handle a plastic fire like a pro.
How To Put Out Plastic Fire
Plastic fires can be dangerous and challenging to put out. The toxic fumes and intense heat make it crucial to approach these fires cautiously.
This comprehensive guide will walk you through the necessary steps to safely extinguish a plastic fire.
Remember, safety should always be your top priority, so if the fire is too large or out of control, do not hesitate to call for professional help.
Step 1: Evaluate the Situation and Ensure Your Safety
- Before attempting to extinguish a plastic fire, assess the situation to determine if it is safe.
- Ensure that you have a clear escape route and that no immediate hazards or obstacles are in your way.
- If the fire spreads rapidly or emits toxic smoke, evacuate the area immediately and call emergency services.
Step 2: Use the Right Extinguishing Method
- It is crucial to identify the type of plastic burning to choose the appropriate extinguishing method.
- Class A plastic fires can be extinguished with water or a water-based extinguisher.
- Class B and C plastic fires require a dry chemical extinguisher, carbon dioxide (CO2), or a clean agent extinguisher.
- Avoid using water on Class B or C fires, as it can spread the flames or cause electrical hazards.
Step 3: Activate the Fire Alarm and Alert Others
- If you haven’t already done so, activate the fire alarm to alert people nearby.
- Inform others about the fire, ensuring they know the situation and can evacuate safely.
- If necessary, establish a safe meeting point away from the fire.
Step 4: Approach the Fire with Caution
- Keep a safe distance from the fire and approach it from an angle that minimizes exposure to heat and smoke.
- Wear suitable personal protective equipment, including heat-resistant gloves, goggles, and respirators.
- Stay low to the ground where the air is less toxic, and move carefully towards the fire.
Step 5: Aim at the Base of the Fire
- Direct the extinguishing agent at the base of the fire, where the fuel source is located.
- Use a sweeping motion to cover the entire burning area, extinguishing any smoldering remnants.
- Continue applying the extinguishing agent until the flames are completely out, ensuring no hot spots remain.
Step 6: Monitor the Area and Prevent Re-ignition
- Even after extinguishing the fire, keep a close eye on the area to prevent re-ignition.
- Check for hidden hot spots or smoldering materials that could reignite the fire.
- If necessary, use a thermal imaging camera or heat-sensitive equipment to ensure the area is completely cooled down.
Step 7: Report the Incident and Seek Professional Assistance
- Once the fire is under control, report the incident to the appropriate authorities or your workplace supervisor.
- Seek medical attention for anyone who may have been exposed to smoke or suffered injuries during the incident.
- Contact a professional fire restoration service to assess and repair any damage caused by the fire.
Causes Of Plastic Fire
Various factors can cause plastic fires, and it’s important to understand them to prevent such incidents. Here are some common causes of plastic fires:
Heat sources: Exposing plastic materials to high temperatures or direct flames can cause them to ignite. This can happen when plastics come into contact with open flames, hot surfaces, sparks, or heat-generating equipment.
Electrical faults: Electrical malfunctions or short circuits can lead to overheating and the ignition of nearby plastic materials. Faulty wiring, overloaded circuits, or damaged electrical appliances can contribute to these types of fires.
Chemical reactions: When combined or exposed to specific conditions, certain chemicals can generate heat or produce flammable gases that ignite plastic materials. This can occur in industrial settings where incompatible chemicals are stored or handled improperly.
Arson or intentional fires: Unfortunately, intentional acts of arson can involve igniting plastic materials. This can occur in various settings, including buildings, vehicles, or outdoor areas.
Manufacturing processes: In industrial settings where plastic products are manufactured, there is a risk of fires due to machinery malfunctions, overheating, or improper handling of plastic materials.
What Fire Extinguisher Is Good For Burning Plastic?
When it comes to extinguishing a fire involving burning plastic, selecting the appropriate fire extinguisher based on the type of fire is essential.
The most suitable fire extinguisher for a plastic fire is designed to handle Class A, B, and C fires.
Class A fires involve ordinary combustible materials like wood or paper, Class B fires involve flammable liquids, and Class C fires involve energized electrical equipment.
For a plastic fire, the following types of fire extinguishers can be effective:
Dry Chemical Fire Extinguishers (ABC): These extinguishers are versatile and can handle Class A, B, and C fires. They contain a dry chemical powder, typically mono ammonium phosphate, which can smother the fire and interrupt the chemical reaction.
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Fire Extinguishers: CO2 extinguishers suit Class B and C fires, including those involving burning plastic. The CO2 gas displaces oxygen, effectively suffocating the fire. It leaves no residue, making it suitable for use around sensitive equipment.
Clean Agent Fire Extinguishers: Clean agent extinguishers use non-conductive extinguishing agents, such as Halotron or FE-36, effective on Class B and C fires.
These extinguishers do not leave residue or cause damage, making them suitable for areas with sensitive electronics or valuable assets.
How Is Hazardous Burning Plastic?
Burning plastic can be extremely hazardous to both human health and the environment. Here are some reasons why burning plastic is considered highly hazardous:
Toxic fumes: When plastic materials burn, they release toxic fumes and gases into the air. These fumes contain harmful chemicals such as dioxins, furans, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Inhalation of these toxic substances can cause respiratory problems, irritation, dizziness, nausea, and in severe cases, can be carcinogenic or lead to long-term health issues.
Air pollution: Burning plastic contributes to air pollution by releasing fine particulate matter (PM), carbon monoxide (CO), sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and other pollutants into the atmosphere. These pollutants can adversely affect air quality, leading to respiratory and cardiovascular problems and smog formation.
Environmental impact: Plastic fires can have severe environmental consequences. They can release toxic substances into the soil, water bodies, and ecosystems, causing contamination and harming plant and animal life. The pollutants can also enter the food chain, potentially affecting human health.
Fire spread and intensity: Plastic materials, especially when densely packed or in the form of large objects, can burn intensely and spread fire rapidly. This can increase the risk of structural fires and make fire suppression efforts more challenging.
What Temperature Does Plastic Catch Fire?
Polyethylene (PE), commonly used in grocery bags and plastic wraps, has a relatively low ignition temperature of around 320-390 degrees Fahrenheit (160-200 degrees Celsius). This means that it can catch fire easily if exposed to an open flame or a heat source of that intensity.
Polypropylene (PP), often found in food containers and packaging materials, has a higher ignition temperature than polyethylene. It typically ignites between 420-520 degrees Fahrenheit (215-270 degrees Celsius). This makes it less prone to catching fire compared to polyethylene.
Polystyrene (PS), commonly used in disposable cups and food packaging, is another type of plastic that ignites relatively easily. Its ignition temperature ranges from 430-490 degrees Fahrenheit (220-255 degrees Celsius). It’s noteworthy that polystyrene foam, often called Styrofoam, is even more flammable and can ignite at lower temperatures.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a plastic used in pipes, vinyl flooring, and clothing, has a higher ignition temperature of around 730-840 degrees Fahrenheit (390-450 degrees Celsius). This makes PVC less likely to catch fire compared to other plastics mentioned earlier.
Will Water Put Out A Plastic Fire?
Water is generally not effective in extinguishing a plastic fire. Trying to put out a plastic fire with water can sometimes worsen the situation. Here’s why:
Ineffectiveness: Plastic fires often burn at high temperatures and release flammable gases. Water does not effectively cool down the fire or suppress the flammable gases, so it may not extinguish the fire completely.
Splattering: When water comes into contact with a burning plastic fire, it can cause the plastic to splatter and disperse the flames. This can lead to the fire spreading or increasing in intensity.
Toxic fumes: Water can cause burning plastic to release toxic fumes and gases more rapidly. The combination of water and heated plastic can generate steam and potentially carry toxic substances in the fumes, increasing the risk to those nearby.
Instead of using water, it’s best to rely on fire extinguishers suitable for the type of fire involved. Dry chemical fire extinguishers (ABC), carbon dioxide (CO2) extinguishers, or clean agent extinguishers are more effective and appropriate for extinguishing plastic fires.
These extinguishers are designed to starve the fire of oxygen or interrupt the chemical reaction without exacerbating the situation or releasing toxic fumes.
Can Burning Plastic Start A Fire?
Yes, burning plastic can start a fire. When plastic materials come into contact with a sufficient heat source or open flame, they can ignite and sustain a fire.
The ignition temperature of different types of plastic varies, but many plastics can catch fire and burn easily once ignited.
Plastic fires can start in various ways, such as:
Direct contact with an open flame: Plastics exposed to a direct flame can heat up and eventually ignite. This can happen, for example, if a plastic object comes into contact with a lit candle, a lighter, or a match.
Electrical faults: Electrical malfunctions or short circuits can generate heat that can ignite nearby plastic materials. Overloaded circuits, faulty wiring, or electrical equipment can contribute to fires involving plastics.
Chemical reactions: Certain chemicals can react with plastics and generate heat, potentially producing fire. This can occur in industrial settings where incompatible chemicals come into contact with plastic materials.
When encountering a plastic fire, it is crucial to prioritize safety and take immediate action. Evacuate the area and call emergency services to report the fire.
Do not attempt to extinguish the fire yourself, as burning plastic releases toxic fumes.
Please wait for the fire department to arrive; they have the equipment and training to handle the situation safely.
Prevention is key, so practice properly storing and handling flammable materials and maintaining a fire-safe environment to minimize the risk of plastic fires.
Hi, I m Aaron Smith, a firefighter, and creator of Firefighterline.com, a website that provides top-notch training courses for firefighting organizations. After completing my studies, I quickly rose through the fire service ranks, eventually becoming Captain at one of the busiest fire departments in the state.