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Fire Safety

Momo Bonobo

Steel wool fire spinning

Fire spinning is inherently dangerous. Even when following these safety precautions and protocols, there are dangers that cannot be completely avoided. We cannot assure you that nothing will go wrong even if you follow all these precautions. If you are not willing to assume full risk and liability as outlined in the safety disclaimer, DO NOT FIRESPIN!

Now that our little disclaimer is out of the way, here’s a guide for all your fire spinning needs.

Table of Contents​

The Three Pillars of Fire Safety

Fire Safety Blankets

Fire safety blankets might be the most important safety tool to always have. Safety blankets have two main purposes: to put out fire props and to put out fire spinners. All you need to do to douse a fire prop is wrap the lit wicks in the blanket making sure no airflow is going to the wicks. If the fire performer catches on fire and can’t extinguish it themselves, the fire spotter (explained below), should wrap the body part in the fire safety blanket similar to dousing a fire prop.

Fire safety blankets are commonly referred to as duvetynes, but duvetynes are not the only types of fire safety blankets. Duvey’s are thin blankets that are made of cotton or wool. They are generally treated with chemicals to make them more flame resistant. This type of safety blanket should not be washed or the flame resistance will be much weaker. Duvey’s are also sold as “commando cloth” which is usually just a slightly thicker duvy (12 oz vs 16 oz).

Other popular types of safety blankets are made of thick wool, such as our certified fire safety blankets, or materials like nomex. Only use blankets that are meant to be used as fire safety blankets. Synthetic materials are never recommended unless specifically labeled fire safe because they will melt. Test your fire safety blanket with a lighter before using it to ensure it’s fire safe.

Fire Spotters / Safeties

Having a fire spotter / safety is extremely important every time you fire spin. A safety is another human who is watching you fire spin while holding a safety blanket. They are meant to attentively watch to make sure that the fire spinner, audience, and environment are not catching on fire. When asking someone to safety you, make sure they know about fire safety principles and how to extinguish your specific prop. The fire safety should also have a fire extinguisher nearby in case the audience or environment catches on fire.

The most common spotter protocol is to call out what body part has caught on fire to make the performer aware. They should be descriptive with the call outs by naming specific body parts (eg. instead of yelling out “LEG” you should yell out “THIGH” or “KNEE”). Most of the time, a fire spinner can extinguish the fire by just aggressively swiping it off with their hand. In more serious situations the fire safety should run up and use the safety blanket to douse the fire. The other aspect they should pay attention to is if anything in the environment catches on fire, in which case they can either use the safety blanket or the fire extinguisher to put it out depending on the size of the fire and what is burning. 

Fire Extinguishers

Fire extinguishers are most useful for any fire that is too big for a fire safety blanket to take care of. They are very easy to find and usually very easy to use. Most extinguishers have a meter on them which will tell you if it is still good to use so be sure to check this when getting your hands on one. If your fire extinguisher doesn’t have a meter on it, then they usually come with a date printed on the extinguisher itself or on a card attached to it. If you cannot verify if your extinguisher is still in working condition, then get one with a meter attached so you can be sure.

Fire extinguishers are classified according to the type/class of fire they extinguish (USA). Class A extinguishers put out fires in ordinary combustibles like paper or wood. Class B extinguishers are used on flammable liquids like gases, grease, and oil. Class C extinguishers are used on live electrical equipment and fires caused by electrical energy. Class D extinguishers are used on flammable metals. Most of the fires that can be caused by lit fire props fall into the Class B category.

Multipurpose extinguishers that can be used on multiple types of fire are labelled with more than one class. ABC Extinguishers are very common as they put out most types of fire and can be found cheap. The expellant is a dry chemical, meaning it is not the best for use on humans. It can cause skin irritation and difficulty breathing amongst other unwanted consequences. Using these indoors can cause a mess of chemicals being splashed everywhere.

BC extinguishers are more ideal for use on humans, but more expensive. The expellant is carbon dioxide, which also means you should not be aiming this at someone’s face as it can cause dizziness and suffocation. The expellant is also very cold in these extinguishers so extended usage on skin can cause freezes. BC extinguishers don’t extinguish fire combustibles like paper and wood, but hopefully you’re not spinning near large piles of paper and wood in the first place.

Fire extinguishers should ideally be used as a last case scenario on humans because of the negative health consequences and risks. The fire safety blanket and fire spotter should be the first line of defense. If the fire is too large to handle or too high to reach, the fire extinguisher should be used immediately.

Most fire extinguishers have instructions labelled on them and usually follow the acronym P.A.S.S. This stands for PULL, AIM, SQUEEZE, SWEEP. The safety pin on most extinguishers has a tamper seal that breaks when you PULL on it. AIM the nozzle low at the base of the fire. SQUEEZE the handle to release the expellant, then SWEEP the nozzle from side to side at the base of the fire until it’s extinguished. The reason we aim low at the base of the fire is because if you were to start at a higher point, the fire can reignite itself from below.

Environment​

The location you pick should be a large open space that isn’t near buildings, structures, trees, or bushes. Dirt, concrete, or gravel grounds are ideal (anything that isn’t flammable and is easy to maneuver on). Be sure to clear the area of any obstacles that can cause you to trip and drop your fire tools. Wind is also not your best friend as it can blow fire onto yourself and your surroundings (trees, bushes, etc). Always be aware of what direction the wind is blowing to know where the fire will blow towards when lit or in what direction fuel will spray.

Once your environment has been cleared, designate specific areas for fuel storage (a dip station), spin-offs, and for fire spinning. These 3 areas should not be near each other (minimum 20ft distance from each other). Everyone present should be aware of where these 3 things are. Never light a fire or smoke anywhere near the dip station or the spin-off station. The only place a fire should be ignited is in the fire spinning area.

Be aware of the people in your environment. It is not recommended to fire perform near intoxicated people. They can be difficult to communicate with and can easily cause a huge safety issue when not aware of the dip station, spin-off zone, or fire safety area. The same goes for people who are smoking and unaware of their surroundings.

Never fire spin anywhere you don’t have explicit permission to do so. We never condone anyone to fire spin unless they are on their own property or have explicit permission to do so by the property owner and relevant authorities. Check local laws that pertain to open fires for more guidance, especially in high fire danger areas.

Gasoline / Fuel

Types of Fuel

There are many types of fuel commonly used nowadays in fire spinning but the way they are commercially labeled varies heavily from brand to brand and country to country. The main categories of fuels are low combustion point gases and high combustion point gases. This refers to how high of a temperature the fuel will combust. This means low combustion point gases ignite much more easily because they combust at a lower temperature. In the USA, the two main gases we use in each category are white gas (low combustion point) and paraffin lamp oil (high combustion point).

White gas is very common and is also sold under the name of “Camping Fuel”. The two main brands are Coleman Camp Fuel and Crown White Gas. It is a liquid petroleum fuel commonly used for camp stoves and lanterns. White gas is the most visually appealing fuel to use and creates those picturesque spin-offs people have come to know and love. White gas tends to burn hotter and brighter than most other options and also has a tendency to cause fuel transfers. Fuel transfers happen when a wick touches another object, such as your arm or shirt, and transfers the fire from the wick to the object (this is why safety blankets and fire safeties are necessary).

Paraffin lamp oil is sometimes just labelled as lamp oil. Use lamp oils that are labelled as purified or ultra-pure whenever possible. Lamp oil has a much longer burn time than white gas, doesn’t have a tendency to cause fuel transfers, and does not burn as bright and hot as white gas. This makes it a safer and beginner-friendly alternative. One thing to note is that lamp oil is an oily substance compared to white gas, so it can make a floor slippery. It does not evaporate quickly like white gas does, and can cause oil stains on clothing. Lamp oils are within the same chemical family as Kerosene, but have been purified to make for a cleaner burn.

E85 has become another popular low combustion point fuel that fire spinners use because of its availability and low price. E85 is a bio-fuel that is composed of ~85% ethanol and ~15% gasoline. Around the world, E85 is almost always at least 85% ethanol. In the USA however, E85 can legally be anywhere between 51% and 83%. That means up to 49% of the fuel contents can be straight gasoline. E85 is not generally recommended and can be a smelly gas. Regular gasoline also shouldn’t be used because of the toxic fumes that will be released from burning.

Kerosene is widely used around the world because of it’s availability. It’s also a higher combustion point comparable to lamp oil but is not as purified. The fire tends to be slightly brighter than lamp oil, but it can be very smoky in comparison. The quality of kerosene varies heavily from brand to brand. It also leaves fire props very sooty in comparison to other fuels. I generally also don’t recommend kerosene for these reasons.

Isopars (isoparaffins) are available in very select countries and are the cleanest fuels to use for fire spinning. They are not easy to find in the USA but if it’s available in your country I highly recommend it. There are different types of isopars available with different combustion points. Isopar-E is most similar in properties to white gas. Isopar-G is most similar in properties to lamp oil (except it’s not an oil).

Note: Regardless of fuel chosen, they should always be returned to their original container after your fire spinning is over. Keeping fuel stored in inappropriate containers can deform the vessel.

There are many different kinds of fuel that can be used for our purposes in modern times. Now that fire spinning is popular all over the world, check social media groups related to fire spinning or ask your local fire community what types of fuel people use in your general area. Every country and continent has different regulations for branding fuels and what is meant by different labels so asking local fire performers can give you a lot of perspective.

Fuel Storage and Dip Cans​

Dip cans refer to the container you pour fuel into so that you can dip the wicks of your fire props. The most important aspects of a dip can are that they are spill proof once closed and will not break if knocked over. The two most commonly used dip cans are metal army ammo cans and new/unused metal resealable paint cans. Test your dip can using water to make sure it is spill proof before using it for dipping fuel.

Whenever dip cans are not in use, they should be closed as to prevent fuel from spilling or being lit on fire. Set up a dip station at least 20 feet away from the fire spinning area and spin-off area. Make sure all fuel containers and dip cans are kept at the dip station. When your fire spinning session is over, be sure to return the fuel from your dip can to its original container using a funnel, large metal meat baster, or measuring cup (preferably not glass to avoid the risk of breaking near the dip station).

Dipping and Spinoffs​

Wicks should be dunked into gasoline in a dip can very briefly. As long as you got the wicks saturated, you’re good to go. You can also use a metal turkey baster to fuel your props in more accurate ways, which can be helpful for some specialty props. The only part of a prop that should be touched by any fuel is the wick. Do not put fuel on any other parts such as silicone tape/tubing or any types of rope. 

After dipping your prop, close your dip can and move away from the dip station towards the spin-off area to shake off excess fuel. Spin-off just refers to spinning your prop in a circle quickly to get as much fuel to come off of your wick as possible. You don’t want ANY dripping fuel at all. DO NOT ATTEMPT the flashy spin offs you see more advanced fire spinners do. These should only be taught in person by someone who knows what they’re doing.

Make sure no one is close enough to you that you spray fuel on them. Check the direction of the wind to know where the fuel will spray. Be careful not to get any gasoline in your eyes or mouth. Be aware when fuel is sprayed on your skin or clothes before lighting up, as this cause more fuel transfers. In some communities, it is common practice to loosely tie a plastic bag to the wick of the fire props when spinning off so that the fuel is caught in the bag and discarded. This prevents fuel from being sprayed on the surrounding environment and people.

Move towards the fire spinning area AFTER you have spun off. Before lighting your prop, check the direction of the wind to know where your fire will blow towards. Once you light up the prop, make sure to keep your fire prop moving as a stagnant fire can damage your prop. Ask a more advanced practitioner if you have questions about any of these points.

Other Safety Notes​

Prop Hardware​

Before dipping wicks in fuel, make sure the prop is intact. If your prop has any quick-links, make sure they are securely closed. Check wicks to make sure they are attached properly. If your prop is collapsible or needs to be screwed together, make sure all connections are tight. If your prop has rope then make sure the rope is secured to safety links, swivels, or wick itself if it’s a zero-hardware prop. Pick the prop up and use it for a bit to double check that everything is working properly before dipping or lighting up. The last thing anyone needs is a fireball flying through the air.

Clothing/Hair​

Clothes made of 100% natural fibers (cotton, wool, leather, denim) or synthetic fibers specifically advertised as fire safe are the only recommended clothing when fire spinning. Although clothing made of natural fibers can still catch on fire, it is easier to put out with a safety blanket or by swiping the fire. 

Clothing made of synthetic materials (polyester, rayon, spandex, nylon…) will melt and produce some nasty chemicals. Melting fabric on your skin is a sure fire way of getting a serious burn and can cause scarring from chemicals. Clothing that is dangly, regardless of the type of fibers, is also not recommended. It will get in the way more often which will make for higher chances of fuel transfers or props getting tangled. 

Long hair can also get in the way for similar reasons. It is recommended to wear your hair up in a bun or ponytail to keep it out of your way. Optionally you can also dampen your hair so it is less likely to catch on fire. Hairspray is very flammable, so be cautious if you use any before performing.

Substances​

Fire spinners and fire spotters / safety should be sober while fire spinning. Intoxication has negative effects on inhibitions and will make the experience less safe. In order to be fully aware of the environment and what is happening while fire spinning, we must reiterate that all parties should not be intoxicated. Take care to make sure any intoxicated audience members are safe as well.

Fire Safety Checklist

Equipment

  1. Safety blanket
  2. Spotter / safety
  3. Fire extinguisher
  4. Fuel
  5. Dip can with funnel/baster/measuring cup
  6. Fire safe clothing (natural fibers e.g. cotton, wool, etc.)
  7. Secured fire props

Actions

  1. Inspect environment
  2. Designate dip station, spinoff area, and fire spinning area (20 ft apart)
  3. Dip wicks then close your dip can
  4. Spin-off all fuel in the spin-off area
  5. Fire spin only in the fire spinning area
  6. After session is over, return fuel from dip cans back to their original container