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Fire Dangers Explained: Smoke Inhalation

Man wearing smoke mask
Smoke inhalation can only be prevented by wearing a breathing mask.

It’s a common misconception that severe burns are the biggest killer when it comes to fires. In reality smoke inhalation kills more people than any other danger associated with indoor fires.

Smoke from fire can quickly build up and, unless there’s a working fire detector in the room, it can go unnoticed for some time. Sleeping adults and children are often victims of smoke inhalation as the toxic gases in the fumes slowly poisons them as they sleep, often before flaming fire even reaches the room.

Smoke Composition

The composition of smoke from fire is a combination of several deadly gases, in fact you may surprised at how long the list actually is. The final composition will also depend on which materials are being burned but typically you can expect the following chemicals in high volumes:

  • Carbon Monoxide
    Produced when there is not enough oxygen in combustion to create harmless carbon dioxide. CO is odourless and invisible.
  • Hydrogen Cyanide
    Can be produced by the burning of some household furnishings including plastics, wool, paper and rubber. 20 times more deadly than CO. Some people can smell this gas and describe it as smelling a bit like almonds.


Damage occurs through smoke inhalation in a number of ways. The heat from the smoke can cause damage, burning the inside of the throat. Poisonous gases in smoke can cause asphyxiation by replacing oxygen in the air and reducing the lungs’ ability to draw in air. Smoke particles may also cause irritation of the airways leading to asthma-like complications.

Victims of smoke inhalation will often only see symptoms appear about 24 hours after exposure to smoke. Difficulty breathing or speaking and unsymmetrical movement of the chest are noticeable effects of smoke inhalation as are burns to the face and body which denote exposure to fire.


The prevention of smoke inhalation can be put down to quite simply to the prevention of fire. However it is nearly impossible to prevent all types of fire so an early warning system such as a smoke detector or a fire alarm system will allow people to recognise an emergency and evacuate the building before inhalation of smoke can take place.

Discount Fire Supplies sells a range of domestic smoke alarms as well as fire alarm systems for large installations. Visit to see our range of fire products.

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