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_________________________________________ Midsouth Rescue Technologies

Magnesium Fires

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In an effort to cut the weight of today's vehicles, manufactures are using a lot of magnesium.
This is a very strong, but light weight metal, weighing only 1/3 the weight of aluminum. Unlike most metals, this metal burns and is very hard to extinguish.

Click picture to enlarge

Magnesium fires have a very violent reaction to water, putting firefighters in much danger.


This reaction was from a small piece of magnesium on the steering column.

We have always known about magnesium in the fire service, but most firefighters only relate magnesium to the old VW engine, on vehicles. Today we never know where to expect it, we find it in:

  • Engine blocks                Valve covers
  • Intake manifolds           Transmissions
  • Large truck frames       Truck grilles
  • Steering columns           Wheels
  • Dash boards                   AC parts
  • F-150 Ford's whole radiator support
  • Example of Mag. Fire

    Magnesium is some what like wood, in that the smaller the particles, the easier it is to ignite. But unlike wood, magnesium must have its complete surface area heated in order to ignite. For instance; a piece of magnesium metal shaving will heat all the way around its surface and ignite very rapidly, while a large piece of plate can actually have a hole burnt in the middle of it with a torch and as the torch is removed the plate will cool and never ignite, because the whole surface area was not heated.

    Click picture to enlarge

    Many scientist disagree on what causes this violent reaction to water, but the most recognized answer is: (In simple terms)
    When heated magnesium ignites and burns with an intense white light and releases extreme amounts of heat. Most magnesium fires cannot be extinguished by water, since water reacts with hot magnesium and releases hydrogen.
    As we know water expands 1700 times its volume as it is converted to steam, this in-turn makes the water molecule much smaller and the intense heat from magnesium breaks them down before they can effectively cool the heat. When broken down these molecules form extreme amounts of hydrogen gas, which is very explosive.  These explosions of hydrogen are then supported by the oxygen, making them even more intense and simply cause the molten metal to splatter, throwing the small bits of molten metal in all directions.

    Warning! Do not look directly into a magnesium fire for long periods of time. The intense light from these fires are much the same as seen from an arc welder. The fire is many times brighter than the sun at a normal distance. Please take this seriously, flash blindness is very unpleasant, it feels like you have sand under your eyelids. A quick one or two second glance every several minutes seems to be okay. This can be extended slightly if you have welding goggles, or an arc welding mask.
    If you do get flash blindness see a doctor immediately, they can give you the same drugs as those designed for welders who get flash blindness this will minimize the amount of damage.
    IC should immediately evacuate any by standers. These fire are a beautiful light show that is hard to resist looking at, but this eye damage can occur from a very long distance if the person continues to watch the fire.

    Warning! Structural firefighting gear (PPE) will not protect a person from a magnesium fire. The sparks that are seen in the pictures are approximately 5400 degrees and like welder sparks they will collect in the wrinkles of your gear and burn through to your skin before cooling.
    Warning! Magnesium produces very toxic fumes.

    A Class D Fire is one that involves combustible metals or combustible metal alloys.  There are basically two types of Class D fire extinguishers.

    Type 1: The extinguishing agent for type 1 Class D is Sodium Chloride. The type 1 Class D extinguisher is effective at controlling magnesium, sodium, potassium, sodium potassium alloys, uranium, and powdered aluminum metal fires.

    Type 2: The extinguishing agent for type 2 Class D is a copper based dry powder. The copper compounds smother the fire and provides an excellent heat sink for dissipating the heat of the fire. 

    Video -- Magnesium Identification

    Video -- Magnesium Vinegar Test

    See -- Full MSDS Sheet

    Magnesium plant fire


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