Whether you live in the city or on a homestead, you already know how important it is to be ready for unforeseen circumstances.
That means stashing supplies food, and more, all in abundance. But what you might not have expected is that all of those stored supplies might make you even more vulnerable to accidental fires.
Lots of things that we stockpile are obvious fire hazards like fuel, but some far more innocent things can also be problematic. Let’s look at sugar, for instance. Is sugar flammable?
No, sugar is not flammable and has a flash point of around 662 °F (350 °C). Granulated sugar has a very high melting and auto ignition point, though it will scorch and smolder at lower temps. Powdered sugar, however, can be a serious combustion hazard if enough of it is in the air.
Sugar is not really anything to worry about when it comes to fire risk. Chances are you’ve burned some sugar when you’ve been cooking before, and that is a likely outcome when sugar is exposed to high heat.
However, caramelization and subsequent carbonizing don’t mean that sugar will catch fire on you just because it’s exposed to high heat. Trust me, there’s a lot more you’ll want to know…
Is Sugar Combustible?
No, according to OHSA and NFPA standards. Sugar has a very high ignition temp.
Does Sugar Ignite at Any Temperature?
While sugar is technically flammable, it’s crucial to understand the difference between something that is scientifically flammable and practically flammable.
The scientific standard of flammability refers to the temperature at which a substance will ignite under controlled, ideal conditions, whereas practical flammability considers the likelihood of a substance igniting in everyday situations.
Sugar can ignite, but it requires a high temperature of 662 °F to do so. This isn’t a temperature that is easily reached in most household or even lab settings, making sugar a genuinely low-risk fire hazard in practical terms.
Does Sugar React with High Temperature?
Yes, sugar does react with high temperatures. At around 365 °F, sugar begins to melt, transforming into a liquid state.
If the temperature increases slightly above this point, the sugar starts to caramelize, turning a rich brown color and developing that distinctly delicious flavor.
However, if the sugar remains at this high temperature for too long, it will scorch, resulting in a blackened, bitter taste and a noticeably burnt appearance.
But despite these changes, sugar doesn’t produce any hazardous by-products when heated. The reactions that occur are primarily physical and chemical changes that affect the sugar’s flavor and texture rather than its safety.
Is Brown Sugar a Fire Hazard?
Technically, brown sugar is not flammable just as other sugar is. Even though it contains molasses, which will likewise burn under certain conditions, the likelihood of it posing a fire hazard is still extremely low.
Is White Sugar a Fire Hazard?
Similar to brown sugar, white sugar is also technically nonflammable, meaning it’s not a significant fire hazard.
As detailed above, the temperature required to ignite white sugar far exceeds normal cooking temperatures, making it unlikely to pose a significant risk in most accidental fire scenarios.
Accordingly, while safety should always be a priority when cooking or baking, using and storing any amount of white sugar does not increase fire risks.
Is Turbinado Sugar a Fire Hazard?
Turbinado sugar, like its counterparts brown and white sugar, is no significant fire hazard. This type of sugar, known for its coarse texture and amber color, is non-flammable.
Storing any amount of turbinado sugar will not inherently increase the risk of a fire.
Is Powdered Sugar a Fire Hazard?
Yes, yes it is! Contrary to other types of sugar we’ve covered, powdered sugar can indeed pose a notable fire hazard under certain circumstances.
Specifically, this risk arises when powdered sugar becomes airborne dust. It’s crucial to handle large quantities of powdered sugar with care, particularly when using it in environments where it may become airborne and exposed to open flames or intense heat.
Why is Powdered Sugar Such a Big Fire Hazard?
Airborne dust of any kind, including powdered sugar, can indeed pose a fire hazard due to its fine particulate nature.
The risk is in the physics: When these particles are suspended in the air, they can ignite more readily than their larger counterparts because of the increased surface area of each particle compared to its volume.
This will allow for a faster reaction with oxygen. In the case of powdered sugar, the particles can rapidly catch fire and instantly spread the flame combustively across the dust cloud.
The result is total devastation, more than capable of leveling or blowing the roof off of a building.
Historically, there have been instances where powdered sugar dust has caused catastrophic industrial incidents, and one in recent memory.
One such event occurred at the Imperial Sugar refinery in Georgia in 2008, where a sugar dust cloud ignited, causing immense damage and the loss of more than a dozen lives and dozens more injured.
Another incident took place way back in 1917 at the American Sugar Refining Plant in Brooklyn, New York. 12 were killed and two dozen injured.
Powdered sugar is dust, and dust explosions are no joke as you can see!
Will Liquid Sugar Catch Fire?
Technically yes; simple syrup and liquid sugar can ignite. But practically, it’s again highly unlikely: the ignition temperature for these liquid sugars is around 930 °F (500 °C), a temperature highly unlikely to be achieved by anything short of a major housefire.
So once more, while it’s theoretically possible for liquid sugar to catch fire the practical risk, it just won’t happen.
Will Sugar Make a Fire Worse?
Sugar worsening an existing fire is highly unlikely. While sugar will melt and eventually ignite and burn under extreme temperatures, it doesn’t typically enhance the intensity of a fire to a significant extent, especially when compared to other substances like liquid fuels.
Is Sugar Reactive with Other Substances?
Sugar does have reactive properties with other substances. However, in the context of accidental fires or similar incidents, there are no plausible reactions known that would produce seriously hazardous byproducts or create conditions that might intensify a fire.
Sugar, primarily made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, is not inherently dangerous.
How Should You Deal with Sugar Exposed to Fire?
When dealing with a fire that involves or threatens stored sugar, the intervention approach should be dictated only by the type of fire rather than the presence of the sugar. Sugar doesn’t require any special precautions or extinguishing agents.
The focus should be on putting the fire out safely and effectively using methods appropriate for the fire’s source. In a domestic setting, that means an ABC-rated fire extinguisher.
These units are often recommended for home use because they can combat various types of fires:
- Class A, ordinary combustibles like wood and paper,
- Class B, flammable liquids and gases,
- and Class C electrical equipment.
Having this type of extinguisher readily available can help manage small fires before they escalate, regardless of whether sugar is involved.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.