Defining the Difference Between Backdraft and Smoke Explosions

Report Date: January 2013

While backdraft events continue to pose a serious danger to firefighters, the events are still poorly understood. During a backdraft, oxygen is introduced through a sudden opening in the compartment and the accumulated products of incomplete combustion ignite in a rapidly developing fire. A similar phenomenon to a backdraft is a smoke explosion, during which a closed compartment suddenly erupts without a sudden opening; the only introduced oxygen is through leakage into the compartment. This project discusses scale live-fire experiments in replicating a smoke explosion, provides explanations of backdrafts and smoke explosions, and compares smoke explosions and backdrafts. Understanding the phenomena and recognizing the warning signs of fire events such as backdrafts and smoke explosions is paramount to firefighter safety.


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  • University of Canterbury, Department of Civil and Natural Resources Engineering

    The Department of Civil and Natural Resources Engineering is the top ranked engineering department in New Zealand, an established history of excellence, placing it in the top 20 of the engineering schools in the world, ahead of Stanford, Cambridge and Oxford (QS World University Ranking, 2013).

  • International Association for Fire Safety Science

    IAFSS was founded with the primary objective of encouraging research into the science of preventing and mitigating the adverse effects of fires and of providing a forum for presenting the results of such research.The International Association for Fire Safety Science perceives its role to lie in the scientific bases for achieving progress in unsolved fire problems. It will seek cooperation with other organizations, be they concerned with application or with the sciences that are fundamental to our interests in fire. It will seek to promote high standards, to encourage and stimulate scientists to address fire problems, to provide the necessary scientific foundations and means to facilitate applications aimed at reducing life and property loss. Since its inaugural meeting, the IAFSS has grown to more than four hundred members. Current members come from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Germany, Finland, France, Holland, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Kingdom and United States of America. The Association is legally established as a charitable organization in England and Wales.

Fleischmann, Charles M., and ZhiJian Chen. Defining the Difference Between Backdraft and Smoke Explosions. The 9th Asia-Oceania Symposium on Fire Science and Technology, Procedia Engineering 62, p. 324-330. 2013.  

© 2013 International Association for Fire Safety Science.  

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (

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