Is fire performance dangerous?

Yes! You're playing with fire!

Fire performance can be thrilling, addictive, and very rewarding. You are, after all, playing with one of the basic elements of the universe, which happens to be one of the most destructive and dangerous elements as well.

If you don't follow proper fire safety, this can lead to serious injuries, destruction of property, or death. It's no joking matter. People have been hospitalized or buried, and venues and houses have been set on fire. It's very important to learn proper fire safety, which includes being properly dressed, safely fueling your equipment, safely removing excess fuel from your equipment, checking your equipment before it's exposed to fuel or fire, and being mindful of yourself, your gear, and your surroundings when performing. There's more to it than that, but those are the key points in a nutshell.

Despite the inherent dangers involved, fire performance can be relatively safe if the proper precautions are taken. It's a rewarding experience, and once you try it out for the first time, you'll probably be hooked for life. The feeling of wielding fire in your hands for the first time is something that you'll never forget.

 

What kind of fuel is the best to use?

That depends largely on what you're planning to do with it, and where. If you're planning to have it in your mouth (for fire eating or fire breathing), kerosene/parafin has less toxins in it than other fuel types, making it safer to use for this type of performance than most other fuels, which typically have carcinogens in them. Also, kerosene has a higher flash point than most other fuels, making it one of the least explosive fuels.

However, kerosene also produces more smoke than white gas (such as Coleman's Camp Fuel), so many performers prefer it for outdoor use, and white gas for indoor use.

For more information on common fuels, check out the MSDS info under Links and Resources.

 

Should I soak my Kevlar wicks, and for how long?

Yes! Soak your wicks! The first time is the most critical. If you don't let your wicks soak sufficiently (particularly the first time), you'll dramatically shorten the lifespan of your wicks. The first time you plan to use your gear, soak your wicks for AT LEAST 30 MINUTES. If your wicks haven't properly absorbed the fuel, instead of burning the fuel that is soaked into your wicks, you'll end up actually burning your Kevlar, causing damage to your gear. This also happens if you let your wicks burn for too long, once the fuel is burned out and the flames are sputtering on your wicks.

After the initial soak of 30 minutes or more, you only need to let your gear soak for 5 minutes or so. Don't just pour fuel onto your wicks. Let them properly soak in a fuel container, unless you want to be replacing your gear again soon. Kevlar wicks that have been properly cared for can potentially withstand a year or more of heavy usage. If you don't soak them properly, you may be cutting that lifespan in half.

 

What kind of container do you recommend for transporting fuel?

MSR Fuel Bottle.

MSR Fuel Bottle.

Pick yourself up a metal fuel bottle such as this one made by MSR. You can find them nearly anywhere that sells camping supplies, or even on Amazon.com. They are built to withstand a beating, the threaded lids screw in deeply to the neck (preventing leaks and drips), and are meant specifically to hold fuel. Yes, there are inexpensive aluminum water bottles that look similar, but they are not meant to hold fuel. Please don't use them, and please don't use a glass container.

Some performers find it helpful to attach velcro to the bottom of their bottle, so it can be stuck in place when not in use (this pretty much only applies to performers that have other props or containers with them, which will have the other half of the velcro attached to it).

With these fuel bottles, pressure may build up and make it difficult to open the bottle, so it's not a bad idea to keep something that you can stick through the ring on the lid for better leverage, making it easier to unscrew. Just about any form of sturdy metal rod (a screwdriver, some torches, etc.) works well for this (though you may be able to get by with a stick or other random object). If the prop you're using doesn't work for it, you may want to consider attaching something for this purpose, via a carabiner/quicklink to the lid of your bottle.

You may also want to carry a fuel funnel along, which will make it significantly easier to pour fuel from your soaking can back into your fuel bottle. Fuel funnels are available nearly anywhere that sells automotive supplies, including most gas stations.