THE PLANT FIRE PROBLEM: CAUSES AND PREVENTION


In general, the cause of most plant fires is the exposure of a fuel to a source of heat. Where the fuel, such as accumulations of trash or debris, is not necessary plant operation, fires can be prevented by removal of the fuel.

Where the exposed fuel, such as raw materials or finished products, is essential, the source of heat must be protected or controlled. Some of the most common sources of heat and fuel that cause plant fires are heating and cooking equipment, smoking, electric equipment, burning, flammable liquids, open flames and sparks, incendiary (arson), spontaneous ignition, gas fires, and explosions.

These sources of heat are summarized here.

Heating and Cooking Equipment
Defective or Overheated Equipment. This includes improperly maintained or operated furnaces, smoke pipes, vents, portable and stationary heaters, industrial commercial furnaces, and incinerators.

Chimneys and Flues. Fire can arise from ignition of accumulated soot or inadequate separation from combustible material.

Hot Ashes and Coals. These can cause problems when improper disposal or disposal in combustible containers or with combustible debris occurs.

Improper Location. This can mean installation too close to combustible or accumulation of combustibles near an appliance.

Electric Equipment
Wiring and Distribution Equipment. These include short-circuit faults, arcs, and sparks from damaged, defective, or improperly installed components.

Motors and Appliances. These include careless use, improper installation, and poor maintenance.

Flammable Liquids
Storage and Handling. These hazards include careless spills, leaking fuel, and overturned tanks.

Inadequate Safeguards. Fires can be started by improper storage containers or facilities, improper electrical equipment near open processes, or improper bonding and grounding of transfer processes.

Open Flames and Sparks
Trash and Rubbish. Burning trash and rubbish can furnish the fuel for accidental ignition; careless burning ignites other material.

Sparks and Embers. Problems include ignition of roof coverings by sparks from chimneys, incinerators, rubbish fires, locomotives, etc.

Welding and Cutting. Hazards include ignition of combustibles by the arc or flame itself, heat conduction through the metals being welded or cut, molten slag and metal from the cut, and sparks.

Friction, Sparks from Machinery. Friction heat or sparks resulting from impact between two hard surfaces are a hazard.

Thawing Pipes. Open-flame devices are a hazard when used in the dangerous practice of thawing pipes.

Other Open Flames. These include ignition sources such as candles, locomotive sparks, incinerator sparks, and chimney sparks.

Lightning. This includes building fires caused by the effects of lightning.

Exposure. Exposure fires are those originating in places other than buildings, but which ignite buildings.

Incendiary, Suspicious. These are fires that are known to be or thought to have been set, fires set to defraud insurance companies, fires set by mentally disturbed persons, and fires set by malicious persons.

Spontaneous Ignition. This means fires resulting from the uncontrolled spontaneous heating of materials.

Gas Fires and Explosions. These are fires and explosions that involve gas that has escaped from piping, storage tanks, equipment, or appliances and fires caused by misuse or faulty operation of gas appliances.

Smoking. The use of smoking materials in flammable or explosive atmospheres, or discarding smoking materials in combustible debris.

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