When you think of fires, what’s the first color that comes to mind? If you answered orange, you aren’t alone. Most people associate orange with fires. Whether you’re fire starters or indoors in your fireplace, it will probably produce an orange flame. However, there are times when a fire may produce a different-colored flame.

Why Orange Is the Most Common Flame Color

Before we reveal the different flame colors and their respective meaning, let’s first discuss why orange is the most common color for flames. Most traditional fuel sources contain carbon, which is apparent from their orange flame. Wood, charcoal, paper, gas, etc. all contain carbon — an abundant chemical element that’s found naturally in all living things as well as some inorganic compounds. When any carbon-containing fuel source is burned, it may release micro-sized carbon particles in the flame. The flame then illuminates these suspended particles, thereby creating the appearance of an orange or yellow flame.

Orange and Yellow Flames Indicate Unburned Carbon

Not all carbon-containing fuel sources will produce an orange or yellow flame. These colors indicate the presence of unburned carbon compounds. Carbon is typically burned through combustion, but trace amounts may linger. As the fire burns, some of these unburned carbon compounds are released into the flame rather than fully igniting. The end result is an orange- or yellow-colored flame.

This doesn’t mean that orange- or yellow-colored flames are bad. On the contrary, you can expect most traditional fuel sources, including firewood for sale, to produce a flame in either of these two colors. It’s perfect normal and shouldn’t cause any reason for concern. In fact, orange and yellow flames are actually better for grilling and smoking meats, as they release a more savory and flavorful smoke.

A Blue Flame Indicates Complete Burning of Carbon

If you’re using a gas grill or stove, you may discover a blue flame. Propane gas, like firewood, contains carbon compounds. However, it often produces a blue flame instead of an orange or yellow flame because it burns all the carbon. An article published by the University of South Carolina Beaufort (USCB) explains that blue flames indicate the complete burning of carbon. When all the carbon compounds are burned, there’s no particulate matter for the flame to illuminate. Therefore, the flame appears bright blue.

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Orange Flames Indicate Temperatures of 1,100 to 2,200 Degrees

It’s not just the efficiency at which a flame burns carbon that determines its color. The temperature of a flame will also affect its color. Orange flames, for example, typically occur at temperatures of 1,100 to 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit. This falls in line with the temperature at which wood burns. When a fire burns cooler or hotter, though, the flame color may change.

Blue Flames Indicate Temperatures of 2,300 to 3,000 Degrees

Blue flames burn hotter than orange flames, with temperatures reaching up to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Along with the complete burning of carbon, this is why gas-burning fires typically have a blue flame. They heat up more quickly and to higher temperatures than fires using other fuel sources, resulting in a blue flame. If a flame’s temperature drops to 2,200 degrees or below, however, it may turn to an orange or yellow color, especially if it uses a tangible fuel source like firewood.

Chemicals and Compounds Can Affect Flame Color

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the presence of certain chemicals or compounds can alter the color of a flame. A green flame, for instance, indicates the presence of copper. As copper heats up, it absorbs energy that’s manifested in the form of a green flame. A pink flame, on the other hand, indicates the presence of lithium chloride. And burning strontium chloride will create a red flame. Of course, you should avoid burning chemicals due to the potential health hazards it poses. Scientists often create these flames in a controlled environment where they are protected from the potentially toxic fumes.

Should I Worry About Flame Color?

The only time when you should worry about the color of your flame is when it’s not orange, yellow or blue. These three colors indicate a natural burning process, with the fire either completely or partially burning all the fuel’s carbon compounds. But if you notice a green, pink or other alternative flame colors, you should consider choosing a different fuel source. As mentioned above, these colors may indicate the presence of chemicals or compounds, some of which could be harmful to your health.

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4 Comments

  1. What about lighters?? Is orange hotter or blue?
    I was understanding that blue flames had more oxygen and tend to be hotter

  2. i had a red flame and yellow flame. i had never seen a red flame in it before. could this be the wood

  3. My question is about burning wood. If it burns at a temperature of between 1100 and 2200 degrees, can it be coaxed into being a fire that burns blue flame i.e. hotter and more efficient at burning carbon? Are the unburned illuminated carbon particles burned as they are illuminated? What happens to the unburned particles that get through the fire completely? Do they just settle, are being breathed in (consequences?), are they micro and harmful? You get the idea…is it better to strive for a blue flame for health (human and planet) reasons, BTUs per lb of wood….etc.

    Thanks
    Joan

  4. i think meat tastes better when cooked on the glowing embers of a wood fire and not on the actual flames

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