Smoke is an aerosol, made up of numerous airborne solid/liquid particulates and gases. A typical house fire produces hundreds of chemicals, depending on the temperature, materials burnt and availability of oxygen.
Smoke causes damage to the body in a number of ways; thermal damage, toxic poisoning and pulmonary irritation from carbon monoxide (produced when there is not sufficient oxygen to form carbon dioxide), and other compounds like hydrogen cyanide and phosgene. Carbon dioxide (one of the main products of combustion), causes asphyxiation.
Inhaling smoke has immediate adverse effects, irritating the eyes, nose and throat and causing uncontrollable coughing and sickness. Smoke inhalation kills in just a few minutes and also quickly obscures vision, creating disorientation that can prevent a safe escape. A victim may be rendered unconscious very quickly, leading to rapid death. Life limiting, long term injuries to the respiratory and nervous system also result from non-fatal smoke exposure.
Any person or animal is at risk – especially at night when occupants are asleep and unable to smell smoke. Children and animals succumb to its toxic/asphyxiate effects more quickly, due to their reduced body size. Children are particularly at risk during a fire, as they often respond to its dangers less quickly than an adult.
Many fires produce large quantities of smoke, which rapidly spreads through the property in a few minutes. 50% of fires in the home are caused by defective electronic devices and malfunctioning appliances. Other primary ignition sources include cooking-related fires (particularly when food is left unattended), candles, cigarettes/cigars and overburdened electrical connections. 11% of house fires are caused by children.