1. Stesha
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    Stesha Member

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    Smoke, burning building

    Discussion in 'Research' started by Stesha, Feb 11, 2016.

    I have two characters escaping a burning building. I haven't been in a house fire since I was 5, and while I can vaguely remember some of what that was like (and no, my kids won't be hiding under the bed while the walls fall on them) and I've found some videos and research to help me along, I'm having trouble remembering what it physically feels like.

    So if anyone has any medical or personal experience with this, or can point to a source, I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you!
     
  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I was a rooming house/apt manager when a severely intoxicated tenant fell asleep in bed with a cigarette. The fire had been burning a while when another neighbor came and got me, none of the smoke alarms were going off yet. I grabbed the keys and a fire extinguisher and she went to the hall phone to call 911.

    Smoke was coming out around the door. I unlocked it. Stupid advice: they tell you not to open the door if it's hot. What do you do if there's someone inside? I yelled at him to come out, he moaned. Fortunately he was by the door.

    You do stupid things, I sprayed the fire extinguisher at the door. Advice you can use: don't assume you know how to work a fire extinguisher. It wasn't intuitive that you squeeze the handles together. I pushed and it didn't move, eventually figured it out.

    So spraying the door didn't do any good. I have no idea why I did that. Moving on. He didn't come out but I could hear him. I opened the door, fortunately there was no flashover. I pulled him out and shut the door. If he hadn't made it off the bed to the door, I have no idea if I could have gone inside and gotten him out.

    Now as for the smoke. I had that door open maybe 30 seconds at most. This was in the basement of a two story house with an attic apartment, so it was fairly large. In that 30 seconds or less the hallways, stairs, landing, anything open, filled with so much smoke you could not see your hand in front of your face. The basement hall was relatively clear as the smoke all went up. I went up and out to tell the fire fighters where the fire was and I had to feel my way to the front door.

    The smoke alarms finally went off. The people in the attic apartment climbed out the fire escape because there was so much smoke they had no way to know the fire was contained in the basement.

    To this day, whenever I see a fire in a movie it's annoying. People are usually in a room with flames around. It isn't like that. You cannot see anything in a fire, and I mean nothing.

    In the aftermath, he had heat burns in his lungs but did OK. The bed was burned completely through and the floor had started to burn. The heat melted the TV. I think there was more smoldering than flames because only that patch on the floor and the bed were actually burned.
     
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  3. Jeff Countryman
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    Jeff Countryman Living the dream Supporter

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    What it physically feels like depends on the age/maturity/current-psychology of the character, I think. Everyone experiences the same thing (ie a fire) but have different actions and responses and memories. I have a solid medical background but can't answer your question as posed. I doubt anyone can - the answer lies in the character him/herself rather than a 'blanket' experience.
     
  4. Stesha
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    Stesha Member

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    I'm not talking emotional reaction - I do mean actually physically. Like, what happens when you inhale smoke? What does that feel like? Stinging eyes? That sort of thing?

    Thank you, GingerCoffee for the big reply! That's a very good point about the smoke. I had forgotten just how much smoke would be present and what the visibility would be.
     
  5. JadeX
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    I've never been in this particular situation, but I do know how smoke can irritate the eyes, and have encountered such eye irritants before. Your eyes hurt like you've got sand in them, your tear ducts water up. Tears flood your eyes and make it hard to see. At first it's blurry, then it gets blurrier, and when your eyes have absolutely flooded the tear drops will actually distort your vision - you know how water bends light? Exactly like that - your eyes are covered in a bunch of bubbles that all bend light differently, so it can be a bit like looking through a kaleidoscope. That could make it difficult to walk, you can get dizzy and disoriented from not being able to see properly. You'll want to be wiping your eyes constantly but it won't quite be enough, the tears just keep coming. Eventually the skin around your eyes and cheeks will start to feel inflamed/irritated, as tears can be somewhat acidic (especially if caused by a major irritant).

    That's just about the eyes, from the smoke. I've never actually been in a building that was actually on fire, so I don't know about what might happen elsewhere in the body. Some good research might be to read/watch interviews of 9/11 survivors - people who were in the towers, especially the upper floors. Talk about a burning building - why not go with the most dramatic example?

    Hope this helps!
     
  6. Stesha
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    Stesha Member

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    Thank you, JadeX! I don't think I can brace myself up to go through 9/11 testimonies, but I did manage to dig up some accounts of people who have escaped forest and home fires. I think I have a rough idea, and probably enough to push on and get this chapter finished. I was definitely wrong on some key details the first time I wrote it - so thank you everyone for your input!
     
  7. Startled Crow
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    Once upon a time, I was an assistant fire chief with a rural village fire department. We got a call of an attic fire (of course at 2:00 AM in the winter) and responded with mutual aid of another nearby department. The chief was not on scene, I was the highest ranking officer for my department thus I took the the position of incident commander as we arrived before anyone else. My job was mainly to coordinate and command the incident rather than actually attack the fire. However, there were little personnel on scene as we are quite rural. A firefighter needed assistance getting up a ladder and into the attic which was tight to fit into. He was wearing his SCBA gear, I was not which was dumb on my part. We got him in there but in that process, smoke came out and right into my face. The feeling was like 10 cigarette smokers taking a hit and blowing it right in my face at a close distance... The smoke took my breath away, made me cough and it stunk of something fierce. I actually smelled the smoke on me for several hours after that even after showering it off. Another thing I can remember is the smoke being filled with insulation fibers from the attic, which also happened to seek my lungs right out... That cough was slightly painful and itchy all at the same time... breathing and even talking was a bit difficult after that for a few hours. I hope that helps... Lesson here? If you have access to SCBA, wear it!
     
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  8. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Reminds me, our apartment house smelled like smoke for weeks. And we had to stay away the first night while they cleared the smoke with big fans for hours. Even when the air is clear there can still be toxins in the air.
     
  9. Stesha
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    Stesha Member

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    Thanks for the great input! They won't have access to any equipment - just shirts over their faces - so this helps a lot. Thank you so much.
     

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