Fire Breathing

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Warning: Home of Poi and Pele do not endorse fire breathing, nor do we take responsibility for anyone injured in attempting these fire arts. This is meant as an informative guideline only. In attempting fire breathing you do so at your own risk.


Now that we are aware of the dangers, let us continue into the tools of the trade.


The basic immenities to fire breathing, other than a safety person, are a torch or other fire source, a small cloth that fits into your hand, a high flash point fuel and some form of container to keep your fuel in.

First the torch. I have seen people who have used newspaper they twisted into a roll and set afire, but when the fire traveled down the hollow part of the newspaper they seemed surprised. A piece of wire with cloth wrapped around the end, and when the cloth came unraveled a mess was had by the performer. There are many seemingly good options for this, but things you will need to consider are; How strong is the stick/ torch base? How fast will the wick head burn? How large will the fire be? How should I affix the torch head to the base? Everyone has answers and advice. Designs for torches can get as simple as you would like or as elaborate as your imagination. When beginning fire breathing I suggest a smallish head on your wick, so that you have more control over the size of your plume. The larger the wick head, the more surface area for fire, the larger you breath may be. The absolute basic torch consists of a wire coat hanger that has been straightened out. Affix 100% cotton cheesecloth to the wire where you want the wick head to be using white school glue. Allow it to dry fully before use. If you are fearful of the metal end of the wire getting hot, wrap it in leather lacing or cloth. The ideal beginning torch length should be at least 8 inches long, not more than 12 inches to insure the fire will be a safe distance from you hand as well as the torch being able to be held steadily from your face. The beginning wick heads should be at least 1 inch in diameter and at least 1-½ inches long.

Your next immenity will be a small cloth that you can palm in your hand. The cloth should be made of natural absorbent fiber such as terrycloth or thick cotton. This cloth should be held in your non-wick holding hand. Immediately after you take the fuel in your mouth and after your fire breath you should wipe your chin of any excess fuel to help prevent a blowback. Eventually this motion will become automatic and almost inconspicuous with practice.

Next would be a container for you to drink from. While practicing it is fine to use the fuel bottle itself to swig from, but while in front of unknowing others I prefer to keep it in a corked, heavy duty glass bottle. There are also sport bottles available on the market which work fine, as does any form of drink wear. My suggestion if you choose to use a cup or glass you intend on drinking from at a later point, wash it in hot soapy water a few times before putting a beverage in it. In sport bottles or other plastic containers choose something constructed from a heavy duty plastic that will not corrode from the fuel over the course of time. I say a heavy glass bottle because it will be less likely to shatter in case of accident. All containers should be covered or closed in some way until you are ready to use the fuel. This prevents anything from getting into the fuel itself, as well as lowering the possibility of accidental ignition or spills. It is also advisable to label or otherwise inform those in the area who might drink from your bottle that it is fuel.

A high flash point fuel is any fuel whose ignition point is high enough that it does not ignite easily, nor does it have combustible fumes. This is the most important part of fire breathing. Use of any fuel with combustible fumes means that a blowback is more likely to occur. These dangerous fuels are gasoline, naphtha fuel and those labeled white gas, butane, and any form of alcohol including ethyl (drinkable) alcohol. High flash point fuels include lamp oils/paraffin, kerosene, and relatively new to the market is biodiesel. These fuels require aspiration, high temperatures or to be soaked into a wicking in order to ignite.

Kerosene is one of the most readily available, but it is mostly unrefined and so is the most carcinogenic. It tends to be smoky and taste very bad. Lamp Oils or Paraffin Oils are more processed and so does not have the foul taste. The carcinogenic levels of these however vary according to brand and style. Those labeled as smokeless and odorless, or those with coloring and scents added are more toxic than the basic oil due to additives. Biodiesel is still under experimentation. Not much is known about the toxicity of it, though because it is made from plant and animal byproducts the carcinogen level is believed to be lower than that of kerosene or the oils. However biodiesel does not produce as strong, as colorful or as large of a plume as the other fuels due to not aspirating as easily as the others aspirate. No matter what fuel is used, it is combustible and it is toxic. I also feel the need to say that carcinogenic and toxic is not to say that it will cause cancer or illness, but more to make you aware that prolonged exposure may have these results.

Now that you are ready to start practicing, put the fuel away. Save it for later. Fill your container of choice with water and head outside or into the shower.

The practice steps will be the exact same steps you will take with fuel when you are ready, so be certain to practice good habits so that they become automatic for you.

Once you are where ever you will be practicing, check the wind and if there is any be sure it is blowing towards your back. Make sure the area above you is free of powerlines, roofing overhangs and trees, or any other obstacles. Hold your fuel container in your weaker hand, with your thumb towards you and your fingers wrapped around the other side of the container, in a c grip (your hand is cupped like the letter c if you remove the container). This grip reduces the risk of the container slipping from your grasp. Before you tighten your grip on your container, drape your wipe cloth over your thumb. Remove your torch from where you fueled it up; remember to always shake excess fuel from it before lighting it. Place your unlit torch or practice stick in your dominant hand. This is so that you maintain absolute control over the fire at all times. Pretend to light it. Breathe deeply and hold it. Take a sip of the fuel, no more than what you can hold between your tongue and your teeth, about a shot, and lower the container to your side or even behind you. Raise the torch so that it is between 70 and 80 degrees above you, comfortably extending the arm so that the torch is at least 12 to 18 inches away from your face. Aspirating fuel is much like blowing a raspberry, playing a trumpet, or making a horse noise, your cheeks should not puff out or be stressed in anyway. The object is to vibrate the lips so that when you use the air in your lungs to push the liquid through your vibrating lips the liquid will aspirate into a fine mist, which is then ignited by the flame. Once you aspirate the fuel drop the torch to your side, making certain both it and the fuel container are away from each other. Practice this with water until there are few solid droplets falling to the ground. This may take a few days to weeks to get. Do not hurry this process. Proper aspiration is the key to good fire breathing.

Important things to remember when practicing:

  • It is a natural instinct for a person to lean into or step into this action. Try to break yourself of this habit as it brings you closer to the fire.
  • Try not to inhale immediately after aspirating. Controlling your inhalation will help to keep aspirated fuel from entering your lungs, and thus reduce the risk of developing chemical pneumonia.


Once you feel fully comfortable that you have done a good job aspirating water it is time to move onto fuel.

Fuel tastes different to each person. It leaves an after taste and also an oil-coated feeling inside the mouth that is not altogether pleasant. Taste your fuel before you attempt to breathe with it. Place a very small amount in your mouth and spit it out. This way you will not be shocked by the taste or texture while you have fire in your hand. Next try aspirating with the fuel without the fire. Once you feel you have successfully managed to aspirate with little or no excess droplets you are ready to introduce fire into the mix. Move slowly through the motions you became accustomed to in practice. Remember that if at any time you feel uncomfortable you can spit out the fuel and try again later. Go through all of the steps and attempt your first fire breath, keeping in mind it is loud, it is bright and it is hot!

Put your torch out, walk away and think about what you have accomplished.

Congratulations, you are among the fire breathers of the world!

Now that you have done the act don't get caught up in the thrill without remembering to take care of yourself. Eating something starchy will help the oily feeling go away and help any fuel that might be in your stomach. Drink milk or something thick. Carbonation and alcohol will enhance a not so pleasant after effect known as kero burps. Acidic foods and juices may aggravate the stomach and brushing your teeth will taste terrible and not be of much help otherwise. Experiment to see what is right for you in this area.

Once you get comfortable with fire breathing you will be able to incorporate more versatility into your act, experimenting with various tools and timings. There are also different kinds of breathing techniques, which result in different kinds of breaths or plumes.


The three common kinds of results from fire breathing are:

  1. Flash Ball = This is the one that requires the least amount of fuel. A small amount of fuel is in the mouth. All of the fuel is aspirated quickly through the torch flame resulting in a relatively small (meaning a couple feet across at most) ball of flame in front of the breathers face that is bright but then quickly dissipates. This looks more like a torch flare up than the traditional idea of a "fire breath" and is what most breathers experience on their first attempt with fire.
  2. Fire Ball = This requires a bit more fuel and is done similarly to a Flash Ball. All the fuel is aspirated quickly producing a large ball of flame that lingers for a few seconds about three feet above the breathers face before it dissipates. This also can be done in one breath or with practice a quick puff.

  3. Blow, Tower, and Pillar = These are all the names used for the traditional image of a fire breath. About a shot's worth, or a little more, of fuel is held in mouth. Instead of it being aspirated all at once the breather aspirates it in a slow and steady motion, continually feeding fuel into the fire until the fuel is gone, and generally your breath but not always. This can be accompanied by taking steps backward to prevent blowbacks or the productions of a mass fireball (which is painfully hot!). This backward motion also serves to elongate your pillar. Pillars usually begin by looking the same as a FireBall but then tend to open upward having the appearance of a mushroom cloud or a tower. The longest one I know of to date is 28 feet high. I have managed to get some into the 18+ feet category. However, Pillars tend to average anywhere from 4 to 10 feet for most fire breathers.

Once you have a good grasp on how to do each of these kinds of breaths safely, mixing and matching can be done for effect.

Lastly I wish to add a note for the safeties of fire breathers.

While the general description for when someone catches aflame is to cover him or her, smother it and help the performer, with fire breathing it is a bit different process. The blankets used to smother a fire can also smother a person, not to mention that while attempting to smother a flame it can actually be pushed somewhere else. Approach the flame in a direction that will direct it away from the performer's face. If the performers face is on fire, quickly and forcefully pat the fire out with the towel/blanket. Never cover the person's face with the towel and never spray a fire extinguisher into a person's face. Practicing these moves is just as important as practicing safe breathing techniques.

Final word

Fire breathing is dynamic, adrenalizing, mesmerizing and thrilling, but it is no bar trick and it is not as safe as it may appear. Following these guidelines and tips will help to make it safer, but no fire play is fool proof. Use common sense, be aware of what is around you, relax and have fun. That is what this is all about!

See also Fire Safety , A season in hell (A fire breathing accident), MSDS Fuel Safey

Frequently Asked Questions.

  1. What is fire breathing?
    Fire Breathing is the aspiration of a fuel through a fire, causing the ignition of the fuel.

  2. Is it dangerous? Why?
    Even done correctly fire breathing can have adverse results on the health and well being of the breather such as, but not limited to:

    A. Death
    B. Severe burns
    C. Cancer
    D. Dental Problems
    E. Stomach and tissue ulcers
    F. Fuel Poisoning
    G. Chemical Pnuemonia or Acute Respiratory Distress
    H. Dry Cough
    I. Headache, dizziness, drunken ill feeling
    J. Nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach ache
    K. Dry mouth/ Cotton Mouth
    L. Dry skin and topical heat burns

  3. What do I need to get started?
    You need to research and gather as much information as you can to make an educated decision as to whether or not this is right for you. The search function on this site will provide several informative discussions on this topic. is another useful resource.

  4. What fuels should I use?

    ***Always practice with water first, and then fuel without the flame. ***
      The more important answer is what fuels you should stay away from. Gasoline, white gas/naphtha, alcohol (methyl or ethyl), and butane should be avoided at all costs.
      Your best bets are high flashpoint fuels such as Kerosene, Lamp and Paraffin Oils, and
      Some have experimented with a relatively new fuel called Biodiesel.
      ***It is important to remember all fuels are toxic. ***

  5. What safety equipment should I have on hand?

    As always, you will need a knowledgeable safety person you trust, a damp towel, a fire blanket and a fire extinguisher, at the very least.

  6. How long should I practice?
    Practice until you feel fully comfortable in what you are doing, and until there are no large drops of water falling to the ground. Do the same when you begin practicing with fuels.

  7. What other things should I consider?
    There are many things you need to remember while fire breathing.

    A. Always wipe excess fuel dribble from your chin before and after your breath.

    B. Always check the wind before attempting any blow. If it is shifty or if it is very strong, try again another day.

    C. Always keep flame source away from fuel container.

    D. The plume will be very loud, very hot and very bright.

    E. Aim upwards in a direction away from other people, flammable materials and any overhead wiring/trees/etc. The safety of others and yourself should always be your primary concern.

    F. If you are on a smoothe surface, the fuel spray will make it slippery. Be prepared to cover it or clean it up when you are finished.

Copyright © 2002 by Pele -

"Fire Breathing" was first uploaded by HOP and has been viewed 139895 times.


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Comments/replies: 1
Member #115809
Reged: Aug 2010
22nd Apr 2011 12:00 AM    

This was a very informative topic thank you.:)
But I have a question what is overusing fire breathing? How long should you wait from preformance to preformance to be as safe as posible from getting canser and other sideeffects a week, a month, a year?

Comments/replies: 1

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