Our systems contain the fire at source, preventing it from spreading and posing a greater threat to life.
But it’s worth remembering that most fires, great or small, are often the result of something inconsequential.
A dropped cigarette, for example, or an electrical fault.
It’s therefore worth remembering that, fifteen years ago, a small chimney spark in a fast food outlet caused catastrophe.
It became the worst civilian tragedy in Paraguay for over sixty years.
That small and insignificant spark happened in the Ycuá Bolaños supermarket on the outskirts of Asunción, the country’s capital city.
It was Sunday 1st August 2004, and the three-storey supermarket was crowded with shoppers, many of them families with small children.
The disaster began in an improperly constructed duct that served as the exhaust vent for the food outlet’s grill.
A charcoal spark ignited grease that had accumulated due to a lack of maintenance.
The fire spread unnoticed between the building’s false ceiling and roof.
This then caused the release of flammable gases which exploded, breaking external windows and allowing oxygen to flood in.
Flames then entered the central air conditioning system, causing its nitrogen coolant to explode.
The fire then spread downwards to the underground garage, where a car exploded.
This set off another shockwave that brought the ground floor crashing into the basement.
It effectively cut off lower level escape routes. Dozens died in their cars.
The enormous supermarket had only been open for less than two years. The fire burned for seven hours.
The final toll was 364 dead and nearly 500 injured. Forty-six children died, and over 200 were orphaned.
Paraguay’s Supreme Court later found the supermarket’s owners guilty of culpable homicide.
The building lacked an effective fire detection system and failed to meet minimum safety standards, including proper emergency exits.
But it wasn’t just the inadequate escape routes.
Several survivors and firefighters testified that, when the fire broke out, exit doors were deliberately locked.
This was done to prevent people from leaving without paying for merchandise.
The Paraguay fire started with just an ember from a chimney, and that’s how most catastrophic fires begin.
But if adequately contained, most fires pose little threat. But when a fire does take hold, occupants must be able to get out quickly.
And that’s where we come in because the function of a professionally installed, fire resistant glass and framing system, is to provide an effective barrier against the passage of fire, heat and toxic gases.
Also, by preventing oxygen from reaching the seat of the fire, it inhibits its progress.
This allows people to escape and minimises fire damage.
The main lesson from the Paraguay disaster is that fire can spread with devastating speed, and when it does get out of control, the best means of survival is escape.