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MSc Lecture 5:

C. Flashover

Professor W.K. Chow

Department of Building Services Engineering
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Hong Kong, China
29 Sept 2015

A stage in the development of an enclosure fire at

which fire spreads rapidly to give large merged
flames throughout the space.
This is due to the whole content in the space
reaching the ignition temperature.
Pre-flashover fire: growth stage of a fire
important in fire safety engineering design for
human safety
Post-flashover fire: fully developed fire stage
important in studying the structural stability,
safety of fire fighters

All the fire protection systems in enclosures are

supposed to give early warning signals or to keep
the fire, if it occurs, at the preflashover stage.
Therefore, understanding the criteria leading to a
flashover fire is very important in fire protection
engineering. Note that flashover criteria are:

Radiation heat flux of 20 kWm-2 at floor level;

Upper layer temperature of 500C or 600C;

Flames coming out of the openings

Those are only the criteria for practical application

without physical content as pointed out by

In the literature, the flashover criteria during a

compartmental fire were reviewed clearly.
Analysis similar to thermal explosion theory was
reported by Thomas on studying flashover.
The idea was extended using non-linear
dynamics with the compartment fire simulated
by a two-layer zone model.
Analytical expressions were reported also using a
two-layer zone model by Graham et al.
The problem was investigated using a heat
balance equation for the compartment.

In the equation, the difference between the

heat gain due to the fire Qfire and the heat lost
QL would determine the rate of rise of the
compartment temperature:

Q fire - Q L =
(C p mT )


The term describing heat gain is basically the

heat release rate of the fire.
The term for the heat lost included the heat
transfer through the wall surfaces and the
heat taken away by the air.

Quasi-steady states can be found when the heat

gain is the same as the heat lost.
However, the mass flow rate m through the
vent has to be known before calculating the
heat lost.
This term is in fact a function of many factors

the ventilation area,

compartment temperature (which depends

also on the heat release rate of the fire) and


Different expressions of the heat gain and

heat balance have been used in the
By plotting those 2 terms against the
average smoke temperature, criteria for
flashover can be determined.
This is because at the initial stage of a
compartmental fire when both the smoke
and compartment temperature are low, the
fire is fuel-controlled.


Heat gain Qfire

heat loss QL

Increase in compartment temperature

Heat-temperature curves

As the fire proceeds, it will be changed to a

ventilation-controlled fire with the burning
rate becomes roughly independent on the
compartment temperature, giving an almost
horizontal line in the heat-temperature curve.
The heat loss term is roughly proportional to
the compartment temperature (might be
deviated slightly due to thermal radiation e.g.
Bishop et al.).
Those curves when plotted against the smoke
temperature are similar to Semenovs diagram
in classical thermal explosion theory.

The mechanism of flashover was also analyzed

by Hasemi.
There, evaluation of flashover was made based
on mathematical fire modelling technique.
A temperature equation was derived from the
heat balance equation for the compartment and
expressed in terms of several parameters.
Criteria on the existence of equilibrium of the
temperature-time curve as a necessary condition
for flashover not to occur were discussed.
A two-layer zone model approach was used to
analyze the temperature equation.

Another fire modelling approach is the

application of Computational Fluid Dynamics
(CFD) or fire field model.
This method is good to have a detailed
description of the air flow and temperature
inside the compartment.
But flashover phenomenon was not always
included in many CFD papers as thermal
radiation and combustion had not yet been
simulated successfully.
In fact thermal radiative effect was found to be
unimportant in computing the fire-induced
convective flow fields in some CFD studies.

However, the time leading to flashover fire was

simulated using CFD by Lockwood and
Malasekera with a thermal radiation model
developed earlier by the same group.
temperature of fuel and the heat flux at the
floor level were predicted.
The flashover time was determined by the
rapid increase in the room temperature and
heat flux.


Experimental data available in the literature

on forced ventilation fire and the results on
surface products were used to compare with
the simulations.
The time to flashover was well-predicted
although derivation of flame spread equations
was absent.
Further investigation is necessary for
upgrading the CFD approach to study a postflashover fire.
At the moment, a CFD model is good only at
simulating preflashover fires or the smoke
movement in big enclosures.

To study the likelihood of flashover in a

compartment fire, using a two-layer zone
model seems to be a good starting point.
But the zone model itself has to be validated
before plotting the heat-temperature curves
flashover criteria under different conditions.
With well-validated two-layer zone models
available in the literature, it is quite
unnecessary to calculate the relevant
parameters using empirical equations or selfdeveloped packages in zone models.

Expressions for Heat Loss

Curves of the heat release rate of a fire Qfire
and the heat lost rate QL can be plotted
compartmental temperature (Tav To).
Flashover would occur when the term Qfire
is much higher than the term QL.
But if the two terms are similar in
magnitude, criteria on flashover were
developed from the intersection of these
two curves.

The rate of heat lost of the compartment

can be expressed in terms of:

a compartment heat loss coefficient h,

surface area of the wall A,

specific heat capacity of gas Cp,

outflowing gas flow rate mgas and

smoke temperature Tgas :

QL h A Tav - To C p mgas Tgas To

... (2)

A detailed discussion on those terms was

reported in the literature.
The expression for h is expressed in terms of a
constant C1 (~ 0.4); the thermal conductivity
kw, density w, specific heat Cw,, thermal
thickness w and thermal diffusivity w of the
compartment wall as:

h C1 max


k w C w k w



w penetration time tp given by:

with the tthermal


Energy generated by a fire

Primary influence on the temperature in a
compartment fire.
Flamming combustion: most important in a
Fuel is heated pyrolysis product comes
reacts with O2 and gives
out HEAT


f h c

effective heat of combustion (kJkg-1)

mass burning rate (kgs-1)

energy release rate (kW)

Effective heat of combustion < Theoretical heat of

Incomplete combustion
Fuel-controlled fire : sufficient air

All fuel will be reacted (e.g. in free burning fire)

depends on temperature T

Ventilation-controlled fire : insufficient air

some pyrolysis





is independent on T

Mass flow rates of air into the room thorough

doors/ windows/cracks are very important.

Most fuel will release :

3000 kJkg-1
Heat release

mass of air

Energy release of the fire can be

approximated from the air inflowing rate!


Heat release rate of a compartment fire