How Fire Breathing Works

Pele creates a plume of fire by directing fuel from her mouth through a flame source. She keeps the fuel and flame at a 60 to 80 degree angle.

Photo courtesy Pyromorph

Fire Breathing Basics

Fire breathing acts can be stunning, or even startling. "It's a very spectacular effect," says Garner. "There are very few things that produce as much's something people don't see very often."

To make a pillar of fire, a fire breather uses two basic components: fuel and a flame source. Put very simply, the performer directs a mouthful of fuel in a forceful spray over a flame. The result can be a pillar, a plume, or a ball of fire.

It sounds simple, but controlling the fuel's direction and the consistency of the spray is a technique that takes a lot of time to refine. Fire breathers usually practice extensively with water before ever taking a mouthful of fuel or lighting a torch. They focus on controlling the spray's direction and consistency. "You can still see the fuel in the air," says Pele. Garner adds that if the spray is not fine enough, "the fuel will catch on fire and then fall to the ground and burn."


Another important factor is the angle of the fuel, and therefore the flame. Pele explains that it should be "between a 60 [and] 80 degree angle…Lower can make the flame come up on a body part, and higher can cause un-ignited fuel to fall back into the face. The angle is extremely important."

When preparing to breathe fire, performers examine their surroundings, including the direction and speed of the wind. "I watch the flames," says Pele. "They are the best tell of everything we could use. They respond to every subtle nuance in the air."

Garner stresses the importance of knowing the surroundings: "Be aware if there are any power lines or there are trees with low hanging aware of where your audience is, where you are...anything that might be around you."