Fire Eating and Fire Breathing FAQ
EXTRA IMPORTANT WARNING:
This is a PROVISIONAL document. The information may not be completely
correct and ideas suggested here may not be the best or safest way to work
or learn fire-eating.
Comments and suggestions to
Peter Bendall, Peter@EMBL-Hamburg.de
A FIRE-EATING & FIRE-BREATHING FAQ. v0.0 March 1995.
This information may not be reproduced without the following warning:
- Fire Eating and particularly Fire-Breathing is possibly the most
dangerous and potentially injurious art to be found in circus,
theatre and street performing. Experimenting without knowledge may
be fatal and the first steps should be taken ONLY in the presence
of an experienced person who fully understands the dangers.
- What are the dangers of fire eating / fire breathing?
Fire burns! Burns performers AND onlookers.
NEVER breathe in with a fire torch in your mouth, with fuel in your
mouth, or when you are blowing fire!
If out of doors - NEVER blow fire if the wind is too strong and
never blow to windward at any time.
You are dealing with FIRE and there is a risk of igniting yourself
or the place where you are performing.
The classical "blow back" where the flames blow or burn back may burn
your mouth and may even collapse a lung. Other damage may be caused to
your eyes and the resultant shock may even cause heart attack.
- Damage to bystanders
Watch out for people being close to your torches. Hair or
clothing may ignite especially in warm dry locations.
Watch out for where you spit or blow fuel or flame.
- Some fuels may be cancer causing agents
most petroleum distillates are CARCINOGENIC.
- Some fuels may cause other damage.
Paraffin (Kerosene) is not toxic and is used medicinally. However
if droplets are inhaled, taken into the lungs, they may result
in increased liability to Pleurisy or Pneumonia
- "asbestos wicks may cause lung damage".
The use of asbestos is forbidden for industrial or domestic use in many
countries. Although Asbestos string, secured with automotive silencer/
muffler cement is still in use, it is DEADLY.
- What is the safest fuel to use?
A cross reference list for common fuels may be found in the
Fuel FAQ of the rec.backcountry
newsgroup. Related information can also be found in the JIS torches pages.
Some lamp oils may contain unknown colourings or additives. One product
sold for fire eating was removed from the market because the
chemicals which were used to make it colourless and odourless
were extremely dangerous.
- FS-liquid from stage/film suppliers. (Germany)
"Safex pyrofluid FS"
- paraffin (lamp) oil (kerosene?)as used with traditional oil lamps
- What is the safest form of fire "torch"?
- metal (i.e non burning) rod, bound with non-asbestos string
such as that available from
Dubé in USA as
Item # 0285 Fire Eating Cord (Wicking cord)
Further info on making fire torches
Do NOT use wadding/cotton/old-rag to bind torches as these will
Make sure that the torches are bound so that no burning parts or
fuel will fall off.
NEVER use ordinary rope to bind a torch. It will burn through
and untie in your mouth.
- How do I travel fuel, set it out in street/stage performance?
- Travel fuel in a proper "approved" fuel can, as recommended for the
reserve fuel container for a car, Indelibly Marked FIRE-EATING FUEL
so that nobody fills it with Motor fuel by accident.
- Use in a wide based "bowl" which is big enough not to tip when a number
of torches are all leaning over to one side.
- A witches cauldron. (a round cooking pot with legs)
- A large (7pound?) fruit can!
- A metal vase with a broad base and narrow top.
- How do I begin?
- With a companion, or teacher, NEVER alone. An experienced
companion is best. A person who is only there to watch or is not
interested is the same as no person at all. That person should know
how to summon help and have some idea of first aid.
- In a properly set up practice area.
- with a floor that will neither burn or absorb spilled fuel.
Do not cover a floor with a plastic cover as this may melt or burn
if a torch is dropped on it and cause even more damage.
- with nothing in reach that can burn
- with no draughts/wind
- with a blanket or large towel to wrap burning persons
- with a fire extinguisher suitable for fighting fuel fires
- Start with unlit torches, practicing the manipulation so as to be able
to handle them positively.
- Work with a single lit torch to get used to the idea of flame in near
- A simple exercise is to make the inside of the mouth very damp with
"spittle". It should be possible to hold a bubble across the partly
opened lips. This practices breath control as well.
- Now practise placing the torch into the mouth and removing it.
Head well back, mouth wide open.
- Try simple "extinguishing" by effectively blowing the flame away.
(later you may "quench" a weak flame by closing the mouth on it - like
"snuffing" a candle.
- Move on to holding the burning vapours in the mouth after the torch
is removed. A few seconds are the maximum possible.
- How do I build up a fire routine?
The three basic "skills" in a fire eating presentation are:
- Tasting - put the burning torch into the mouth and remove it again
- put your tongue out and wipe the surface with the "flames"
- hold the stick upright between the teeth, flames run up the
handle so think about it when you grab it again
- Killing - extinguishing the flame, either by suffocating it or by
actually blowing it out (!)
- Holding - With a newly dunked stick (ok, one that has just been
dipped in fuel...) the flame is left burning in the open mouth
Flames can also be left on the fingertips (pinch out burning fuel
between the thumb and finger) or as a pool of fire in the open palm
by tapping the torch on the outstretched hand.
- Just previously Kill another stick, and then swing it in to
relight it from the flame you are holding in your mouth.
- Have a partner light a cigarette from the held flame
You just need plenty of practice at these before you can elaborate.
For example, use double ended, longer, sticks, or use a wheel with
four or six sticks fired into a hub so that you can spin the burning
[PB]One of my former pupils uses a five stick wheel, all lit, and:
[PB] I always suggest the "fire torture" to begin an act. Here the burning
torches are seemingly touched to various parts of the body. [just
skimming over the skin] Hands, feet, arms, stomach, [later tongue].
- Kills alternate sticks 1, 3, 5, 2
- Holds the flame from 4,
- relights 1 from it (50% he relights 3 as well)
- Holds flame from 4 again (3 if it's lit) to relight 5
- (if he missed 3 last time, he tries to turn back and relight 3
from this flame)
- Lamp Oil burns upwards and the base of the torch, especially
when moved, is rarely hot enough to burn.
- Then the simple extinguishing of "torches" in the mouth can be followed
by leaving a flame long enough to relight one that is extinguished
or long enough for a partner to light a cigarette.
- What about "Blow Outs" = Fire Breathing?
[PB: I have never done a "blow out", and in most small circuses and
theatres where I worked the tent or stage were rather too small for
safety. OF COURSE, I have seen it done many times and to many people
it is the only form of fire act they have seen.
The two shows that I visit regularly do them as the final step in their
I have, however, been present and helped at workshops where the
technique was shown. ]
Blow outs are the most dangerous item in a fire act! There is a very
real danger of a blow-back, where the flame simply runs back along
the stream of vapour, burns the performer or sets fire to their
clothing or hair.
It is usual to unclothe the upper body when doing blow-outs
because a shirt that is soaked in fuel burns very well.
It may be useful to have a large towel or small blanket within reach
so that a fire may be smothered or wrapped in it.
- Start by practicing with water. Hold a hand about eighteen inches in
front of your face and be sure that you can blow a strong spray [not a
jet] past your hand.
- Have a wad of cloth in your other hand and practice protecting your
mouth at the moment you stop blowing.
- Be sure how little water you need to use to produce a time of spray
that is well within your strength.
- When you feel competent, taste the fuel like a wine taster does. It
will taste horrible so spit it out.
- Only if you are still sure (!) Take a burning torch and a small amount
of fuel and be sure you have full lungs.
- looking up at about 45 degrees, blow the fuel through the flame on the
torch. Stop blowing and protect your mouth with the cloth.
You will have been amazed by how loud and how hot the flame was.
- Go away and think about it!
Fire Eating and Fire Breathing FAQ /
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