Do you need smoke alarms? Learn more today!

Fire Burns. Smoke Kills

burned out bedroom

Did you know that while fire burns, smoke kills?

UPDATED FEB 22, 2014.

That’s right. Fire Burns. Smoke Kills.

Often, we tend to think about fire as the primary threat to life in home fires. The fact is, more people die from smoke and gas inhalation and exposure than from fire itself. In Los Angeles, nine people have died in structure fires in just the past seven weeks (updated as of 2/21/2014). That’s unacceptable for our organization, for the Los Angeles Fire Department, and it should be unacceptable to anyone living in this great city.

Listen to our podcast series on smoke alarms! Episodes 13, 14, 15, 16 will teach you all about the importance of smoke alarms. Listen now.

What happens in a structure fire? Things have changed over time, as the content of our homes has changed. We used to have homes filled with metal, wood, and paper. Today, we have homes filled with plastics, synthetics, and paper. The reaction to fire can be extremely deadly – with fire doubling in size every minute or even faster.

Imagine you’re asleep in your home. It’s two in the morning.

A fire starts in your garage. Within just a few minutes, your home will fill with smoke. Will you wake up? Let’s imagine that you do NOT have a smoke alarm in your home… You may not wake up for some time.

Smoke will cover the ceiling, and as more of it fills your home, it will start to bank down… filling each room. The majority of that smoke will be higher in the room… at first.

You sense something… you wake up and smell the smoke – you jump out of bed – STAND UP and you take in one frightened breath as you head for the exit


That’s right. Fire burns. Smoke kills.

One toxic breath might be all it takes to kill you.

TIP: A working smoke alarm could save your life.

climbing stairs in burning building.
An LAFD fire captain climbs the stairs of an apartment building with smoke… taken from video shot by David Barrett.

There are many components in smoke that can be lethal, including:

PARTICLES: These are either unburned, partially burned, or completely burned substances. These substances can be so small they penetrate the respiratory system’s protective filters and hide in the lungs. While some of these substances are merely irritating to your eyes and stomach, others are extremely toxic.

VAPORS: You’ve seen black smoke. Vapors can look like a fog, but technically are very small droplets of liquid that may include poisons that will injure or kill a person if inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

TOXIC GASES: Everyone has heard of carbon monoxide, commonly called CO. Not everyone realizes that it can be deadly, even in small quantities – if it replaces the oxygen in the human (or animal) bloodstream. There are other toxic gases as well. “Hydrogen cyanide results from the burning of plastics, such as PVC pipe, and interferes with cellular respiration. Phosgene is formed when household products, such as vinyl materials, are burned. At low levels, phosgene can cause itchy eyes and a sore throat; at higher levels it can cause pulmonary edema and death.” (source: NFPA)

So, what’s being done about it?

The Los Angeles Fire Department responds to upwards of 10 structure fires every day. Typically, they will arrive within minutes. Every firefighter in Los Angeles is trained to save lives first – and to suppress fire and other life threats with expert care and force. But, firefighters can’t save you if you don’t take the easy and simple steps to save your own life – to protect your own family.

MySafe:LA partners with the LAFD to teach children and older adults about fire safety. We’re a non-profit organization that takes no money from the fire department or the city. We rely strictly on grants and donations. Given that, we’re very effective, and during the past few years, we’ve reached more than 210,000 students in Los Angeles. We’re creating Jr. Fire Inspectors (students who complete a training program and ensure there is a working smoke alarm in their home). We’re giving out thousands of smoke alarms. And we’re doing more than that…

Firefighters inside burning high rise.
Firefighters assemble in a smoke-filled corridor in a high rise during a training exercise. Image taken from video shot by Cameron Barrett.

During the coming weeks and months, we’ll be sharing stories, how-to’s, and collaborating to ensure Los Angeles has its best chance to become safer from needless deaths in fires.

Ultimately, it’s up to you.

Make a plan. [ learn how ]

Install and maintain working smoke alarms [ learn how ]

Practice GET LOW AND GO. [ learn how ]

We invite you to learn more about MySafe:LA and to get involved with making your home safer from fire…


This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.