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Fire breathing is the act of creating a fireball by breathing a fine mist of fuel over an open flame. Proper technique and the correct fuel create the illusion of danger to enhance the novelty of fire breathing, while reducing the risk to health and safety. When using the correct fuel, it will only light when sprayed into a fine mist increasing the surface area of the fuel so that the fuel/oxygen/heat ratio is balanced enough to cause combustion.


The vast majority of professional fire-breathers are apprenticed by a seasoned professional and it is strongly recommended that teaching oneself is avoided due to the extreme risks. Most people who are taught fire breathing and eating skills are seasoned performers in their own right and are taught under the condition that the skills are not passed on until they become a recognized fire performer in their own right. Virtually all recorded incidents of serious injury by fire breathing involve untrained individuals, often while under the influence of alcohol. Using an incorrect fuel is usually a strong contributing factor.

Flash point

To increase safety, fire breathers must avoid highly combustible fuels such as alcohol, spirit-based fuels, and most petro chemicals, instead using safer combustibles with a higher flash point (>50 °C). Due to its relatively safe (~90 °C) flash point, paraffin, or highly purified lamp oil, is the preferred fuel for fire breathing. Although corn starch has been cited as a non-toxic fuel, the hazards of inhalation increase the potential risk of lung infections.


Determining wind direction is extremely important when fire breathing. To determine the wind direction a fire breather will watch the flame on their torch and only breathe downwind. Breathing fire in high wind, or unpredictable wind, is not recommended. Many professional fire breathers/eaters will only perform indoors (with appropriate insurance and safety checks) as this removes the wind as a factor.


With fire breathing, the greatest risk of self-ignition (lighting the clothing or costume) comes from using lower flash point fuels (like white gas) on the fire breathing torch. Untreated 100% cotton clothing is adequate for most experienced fire performers. Polyester clothing is not recommended, as it can easily melt, drip and stick to the skin when ignited. Flame-resistant treated cotton (i.e., Westex's INDURA fibre) or synthetic aramid-type fibre (i.e., DuPont's NOMEX fibre) long-sleeve shirts and trousers are recommended for fire performers (in general) who use the more combustible fuels on their torches. Non-flammable materials such as metal and leather are often recommended as costume choices, but as a lot of 'body-burning' techniques require bare skin it is often said that the less clothing worn the better.

Many performers perform topless and it is not unknown for performers to perform almost or completely naked, usually female performers. This is usually not meant as an overtly sexual act but rather it increases the amount and variety of different techniques that can be utilised; with no clothing (or body hair) there is a markedly reduced risk of injury, especially to novice performers. Body painting is often used with nude fire performers in lieu of a costume, sometimes to give the impression that the performer is actually wearing a costume.

Fire breathers often carry a damp cloth to wipe their mouth between fireballs to remove excess fuel from their mouth and neck. This is essentially an insurance policy. The damp rag can be used to extinguish the face if it catches on fire. Even if you have never had an incident, the damp rag can be a lifesaver although experienced, professional fire breathers rarely use a damp rag as they are, or should be, skilled enough to prevent such midhaps. Facial hair can be an issue when using certain fuels and long hair should always be tied back. More combustible fuels have a lower flash point. The constant off-gassing of vapours increases the risk of combustion.

Certain beauty products should always be avoided, specifically spray-on deodorant, hairspray, perfume and some make-up sealants due to their flammable nature. This is often overlooked and a frequent mistake made by beginners.
Generally speaking no fire performer should have anything on their person that could easily be lit.

There are currently major calls from within the fire performance industry itself for regulation as a large number of self taught fire performers have appeared on the scene (particularly in the UK) who have insufficient training and are posing extreme risks. It is rumoured that several top fire performers are forming a safety alliance to combat such practices.

As there is no regulatory body for fire performers different individuals will have different opinions on best practices for techniques, safety and all other aspects of fire manipulation and thus precise information is hard to verify. The only seemingly agreed upon fact is that fire breathing/eating is a skill and not trickery and it is particularly dangerous and should only be taught under supervision of an experienced professional

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