While there is inherent danger from the flames and high heat from fire, smoke inhalation is usually the cause of death in many residential fire fatalities. A byproduct of combustion, smoke is usually the first element of a fire to affect anyone nearby because of its toxicity, temperature, and prevalence in a fire. Smoke is a collection of airborne solid and liquid particulates and gases.
The most dangerous elements of smoke—especially in fires with low oxygen availability—are its toxic gases: hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, and ammonia, among others. These gases have various effects on the human body and can immediately affect one’s ability to escape a house fire. It is important for residents to understand the dangers of these gases and their role in home fire fatalities. The vast majority of home fire deaths are not a result of flame impingement on the human body, but rather a result of asphyxiation and gaseous poisoning which leads to immobilization or unconsciousness.