Smoke inhalation is actually the cause of most deaths from fires, and not actual burns, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Smoke can quickly incapacitate and overcome you, and the synthetic materials commonly-found in modern homes release substances that are particularly hazardous when they’re burned and inhaled. Flames, although you may not be burned by them, consume oxygen, which is replaced with other gases that make it very difficult to breathe.


What’s in Smoke From a House Fire?

All smoke should be treated as potentially harmful to your health, since it can contain toxic elements. Smoke is comprised of three major lethal components: particles, vapors, and toxic gasses. Particles include substances that are so small that they lodge into the lungs—some are toxic, and others irritate the eyes and digestive track. Vapors are liquid droplets that can be poisonous. Toxic gasses include carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide—from burning plastics like PVC pipe, and phosgene—which is released when vinyl materials are burned. It can result in pulmonary edema and death.


Although most smoke is dangerous and has varying degrees of toxicity, black smoke can be even more toxic because it indicates the burning of synthetic materials or heavy fuels. The darker the smoke is, the more hazardous it is to your health.


What’s the Difference Between Black Smoke, White Smoke, and Grey Smoke?

Black smoke is indicative of synthetic materials that are on fire, like rubber or building materials that are common in a majority of homes. Firefighters see black smoke as a sign of a fire’s potential to become more volatile. White smoke may point to: light materials that are burning, a fire that’s creating gas or water vapor, a fire that has just started burning, or a fire that’s going out. Grey smoke generally means that a fire doesn’t have enough material left to burn, and is dying down.

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