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From bonfires to barbecues, fires can be of practical use and fun to light. However, one might be concerned about its harmful effects like the emission of ultraviolet radiation.
Fire emits UV rays because of (and in direct correlation with) the temperature at which it burns. However, a typical fire is not hot enough to emit harmful quantities of ultraviolet radiation.
In this article, you will learn more about fire-related radiation safety and detection. More importantly, you will find out which sources to use when lighting a fire so you can minimize UV radiation. The article will also cover general protection against UV rays in the daylight.
Why does fire emit UV rays?
Fire causes atoms on the surface of its source to heat up and, with additional heat energy, emit radiation across a wide spectrum. A significant amount of this radiation is invisible infrared, closer to the yellow color with which typical fires burn. It takes more heat energy to emit ultraviolet radiation than it does to release infrared radiation. That said, most fires burn at the minimum temperature required to release some level of ultraviolet radiation.
How much UV radiation does fire emit?
A substantial emission of UV rays is signaled by the blue color of the flame. You may have noticed that the blue flame is more prominent in gas stoves than in campfires. Even then, the yellow flame is more dominant. That shows UV rays to be a minority of a fire’s radiation contents. In the instance of the campfire, the ultraviolet radiation is so low that the blue color is not even visible.
Are UV Rays From Fire Harmful?
UV Rays, in substantial quantity, can cause the following complications:
- Aging Skin
- Skin Cancer
- Inflamed Cornea
However, the reason you should not worry about UV rays from fire is that the heat and infrared radiation are a bigger presence, and hence, a bigger threat. In other words, the heat from a fire is likely to burn your skin before the ultraviolet rays in it can produce wrinkles on it.
So it is handy to remember that if you’re far enough from a fire to be safe from burning, you are far enough from it to be safe from UV rays. The caveat, however, is that this principle doesn’t apply to high-intensity wildfires. UV rays from wildland fires are often damped by the fire’s own smoke. But since those fires burn for so long, UV rays can travel a longer distance and reach those who aren’t burned by the fire.
Can UV Detectors Help Spot Fires?
UV detectors can help spot fires, especially ones burning at a high intensity. Typical uses of UV flame detectors include alerting workers about industrial fires, letting petroleum personnel know about unintended liquid gas combustion, and exposing hydrocarbon fires before they get out of hand.
How UV Flame Detectors Work
Fires give off infrared radiation and emit UV rays. So does the sun. But the Earth’s ozone layer blocks most of the UV rays while infrared rays reach the lower atmosphere more easily. That means infrared rays are around us all day because of the sun, but our surroundings are relatively UV-free.
A UV flame detector is built as a bulb that lights up from a chemical reaction caused by UV rays. When it lights up, there is above-standard ultraviolet radiation around, and you can be alert that a high-intensity fire could have started within a detectable radius.
What Kind of a Flame Detector Should You Use?
If you live near a wildland, forest, or in an industrial town, you should have a UV flame detector in your house. However, the shortcoming of UV flame detectors is that UV rays can get blocked by thick smoke.
That is why, for your peace of mind, it’s recommendable to buy a UV/IR flame detector like the IECEx Flame Detector. It combines infrared detection technology with ultraviolet presence detection to better look for hydrogen flames and N-heptane. It is as reliable in an industrial environment as it is in a home.
How to Protect Yourself From UV Radiation
As mentioned earlier, high-intensity fires burning for a long period can emit enough UV rays for one to be concerned. The key to preventing the adverse effects of UV rays is to cover as much of your skin with the kind of material that UV rays cannot pass through.
A general rule of thumb is that if light can pass through your clothes, so can UV rays. While one can buy thick denim pants that block out UV rays, wearing heavy shirts can be suffocating. UV-protection shirts are made to be lightweight yet opaque to UV penetration.
It is advisable to keep UV-protection shirts in your closet, in case there is a fire around. Better safe than sorry. Fortunately, UV-protection shirts are not that expensive. Men can get an anti-UV shirt like Roadbox Sun Protection Shirt, while Isnowood UPF50+ is a good option for women. One can confidently buy these because they have a 4.5-star rating with 1000+ reviews each.
Which Sources of Fire Emit the Least UV Radiation?
Another way to prevent the harmful effects of UV radiation is to use the kind of fuel that will generate little to no UV radiation. While it is okay to use high-intensity flames for smaller periods, you should use low-UV alternatives, like firelog, when you plan to light a fire for a long time (like for camping). Firewood products come in different forms:
- Pine Mountain StarterLogg does not require kindling or any ‘starter,’ making them ideal for new campers and people not experienced with lighting firepits. It burns with 80% less carbon monoxide, making it a greener alternative as well.
- Pine Mountain’s Trad Fire Log is a more traditional version that requires a starter. However, it has a longer burn time with each log having the capacity to stay alight for 2 hours. To make it user-friendly, the manufacturers package individual logs in a paper that can be used as a starter and lit directly.
- BRC Premium Firewood is an option for the traditional bonfire enthusiasts. It is a high-quality, treated, wood bundle that burns well for a longer duration.
How to Protect Yourself From Daylight UV Radiation
UV rays from a fire are only occasionally a threat to your skin’s health, but consistent exposure to the sun can be far more damaging. That is why, according to the American Cancer Society, you should avoid going out between 10 am and 4 pm without your skin covered. You should be especially careful during the summer and spring, as the daylight UV radiation is at its highest during these seasons. You can refer to the UV-protection shirt recommendations above.
If you do not want to limit your fashion choices to full-sleeve shirts only, remember that sunscreens are not for beach visits only. You can cover the exposed areas of your body (like your neck) with sunscreen in your day-to-day routine.
Neutrogena’s Beach Defense Sunscreen is a favorite because it is water-resistant. Having the back of your hands covered in sunscreen has no point if it comes after the first time you wash your hands. There is a reason it has over 3000 reviews on Amazon.
Excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation can be harmful, and in that regard, you must be more cautious of the sun than a fire. However, not all UV radiation from fire is nominal. Wildfires burn intensely and consistently, emitting significant levels of UV radiation across long distances.
That is why it’s recommendable exercising caution regarding UV radiation in general by installing a good UV/IR detector, getting anti-UV clothing, using the right fuel when lighting a fire, and wearing sunscreen on exposed body parts during the day.