Guidelines for fire performers

Pre-burn

  • Be alert. We need more lerts (g). Seriously though, don’t twirl fire when you aren’t mentally prepared to do so.
  • Don’t wear flammable clothes. Leather offers good protection, and bare skin is also a good option. Natural fibers are the next-best choice, although in my experience they can absorb spattered fuel (which is inevitable) and catch fire. Avoid synthetics. I understand that some costume concepts demand synthetics, but safety first. I have heard of, but have not seen, flame-retardant sprays that should make synthetics a safer option.
  • If you are a klutz like me, wet your hair with water, cover it with a damp bandana, tie it back, etc.
  • Have a clearly-defined performance space that is free of obstacles and combustibles, and has solid footing. If you are performing with a crowd around, establish a line that the public should not cross. Set up a water bucket, damp (not sopping wet) towel, and ABC fire extinguisher at the edge.
  • Set up your fuel station. This should be someplace away from the performance space and public traffic.
  • Check your equipment. Make sure everything is in good shape, all connectors are tight, etc.
  • Soak your wicks. If your wicks are on the chains, make sure the chains do not fall in the fuel. With ball-chains, each ball can fill with fuel, which could fling out when you start burning. New wicks take a couple minutes to soak; broken-in wicks only take a few seconds (until air bubbles stop escaping). With a staff, wear a chemical-resistant rubber glove and squeeze off the excess fuel into your fuel bucket.
  • Recruit a safety person to hold a damp towel while you burn. Your safety must be alert and prepared to deal with an emergency.
  • Spin out your wicks. Go somewhere secluded and very vigorously spin off the excess fuel. Keep spinning off until there is little or no spray coming off the wicks. Don’t do this near any cars, as the fuel can destroy a paint job.

Burn

  • Light up. You should not be surrounded by a crowd at the moment you light up.
  • Stay calm and have fun. If you are just having a bad burn (it happens), stop. If you are getting too tired to stay in control, stop.
  • Listen for audience members to let you know if you’ve caught yourself on fire. If you are an audience member and the performer lights himself, don’t be shy: holler “pants,” “hair,” or whatever is on fire.
  • If you get tangled, stay calm. Either let the tangle untwist itself of gently nudge it along.
  • If you get badly tangled, stop and call your towel person over. You may be able to avoid burning yourself by dropping to the ground so that your wicks fall beside you.

Post-burn

  • Have your safety person smother your wicks in a damp towel—the longer the better. Clear the performance space.
  • If you’ll be burning again soon, re-dip your wicks to completely kill the smoldering. If not, you may not want them filled with fuel until your next burn. Note that with high-volatility fuels like white gas, your wicks may still be hot enough to ignite the gas, so only do this after a thorough smothering.