State Fire Marshal issues warnings regarding colored powders used in events

Runners frolic in a haze of colored powder after completing a color run. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

TOPEKA, Kansas – The Kansas State Fire Marshal is issuing a warning about colored powders used in events across the state.

Back on June 27, hundreds were injured and burned when a fireball engulfed a crowd of patrons in Taiwan.

The sudden burst of flames was caused by the ignition of colored powders that were sprayed over the crowd.

“That was corn starch, which is a combustible powder, an organic powder, it’d be just like flour or something like that,” said Chief Stuart Bevis, Wichita Fire Department Fire Prevention.

Bevis says in an incident like that, it all comes down to what kind of powder is being used.

“When you have the powder in the air if it is a powder that is made out of something combustible, it can lead to an issue, when it’s in the air, and it’s in the right mixture with air and the right amount of fuel and you have an ignition source introduced you can have a flash fire,” said Bevis.

This weekend there are events across the state planned, including a color run at the Kansas Coliseum which involves the use of this kind of powder.

“They are cautioned on what materials they are using and many times they can document those materials, they’re non combustible powders so they don’t pose that issue,” said Bevis.

With the hope of keeping all those who participate in these kinds of events safe.

“Generally speaking these are pretty safe events as long as they pay attention to what they’re using and the situations they’re in a tragedy like in Taipei is unlikely,” said Bevis.

The Office of the State Fire Marshal would like to offer information and safety tips to help ensure these events are safe and fun for the participants.

The “combustible dust” used in these events is commonly colored cornstarch, which isn’t normally combustible, but they can burn or explode if the particles are the right size and in the right concentration in the presence of an ignition source.

Possible ignition sources include open flames and sparks, electrical equipment, hot surfaces, and static electricity.

There are four elements needed for a flash fire/dust explosion:

  • Combustible Powder
  • Oxygen (Air)
  • Ignition Source
  • Dispersion of dust into a cloud above the minimum explosion concentration (MEC)

Most of these events generate sufficient colored powder and cloud dispersion in the presence of air to create a fire hazard, yet few fires such as the one in Taiwan occur. The missing element is often the ignition source. The key to preventing these incidents relies on:

  • Eliminating ignition sources
  • Reducing dust clouds to concentrations below the minimum explosive concentration (MEC)

The Kansas State Fire Marshal’s office contacted The Color Vibe, the organizer of the Color Vibe 5K Run in Wichita on Saturday. The company representative offered these safety measures and protocols that they implement with each of their events to ensure participant safety:

  • No electrical devices to distribute the powder
  • The powder has been tested for safe public use
  • A gap is required between stages and the public
  • Smoking is prohibited in the festival area



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