A "flame effect" is any type of special effect that involves a flame, not counting pyrotechnics. This might range from a hand held torch to a house "on fire" with flames pouring from the windows to the impressive effects at the Universal Studio's attraction Backdraft.
Flame Effects Before an Audience
If you are using these effects for a film or video production, or anything else not in front of an audience, there are likely few fire code restrictions or requirements.
Just about any time you have an open flame or anything burning in front of a close audience, you have what your local fire code is likely to call a Flame Effect per NFPA 160. Your state may have adopted NFPA 160 into your fire code (Ohio has) which means you must follow its requirements, and your state may require Flame Effect Exhibitors to be licensed (Ohio does).
Things Excepted and Things Not
Amongst those things excepted are fireworks and pyrotechnics, "lighted candles in restaurants or religious ceremonies, fireplaces in areas open to public, restaurant cooking visible to the public, ... and motor vehicles used in races or sanctioned competitive sporting events."
Appendix A of NFPA (which is not necessarily part of the requirements) includes as covered "Hand-held burning torches, cigarette lighters, candles, matches, and lighting paper in an ashtray." So, basically, if it's on fire, and there is an audience, it's covered by NPFA 160 and (at least in Ohio) you will likely need a permit and a licensed exhibitor.
This standard was really written to cover "eternal flames" at graves, fireballs at theme parks, etc. But as it is written, you'd need a effects permit to light a cigarette on stage, have a bonfire for the Boy Scouts. If in doubt, talk to your local fire officials. I doubt they'll care about the bonfire, but they really do have a valid concern about any open flame on a stage in front of a crowd. Girls twirling flaming batons have knocked over their fuel cans and set entire stages on fire. You need to have a plan.
If you have a flame effect that "existed" before the standards were written and adopted, the rules may not apply -- it is up to your local fire officials.
NFPA 160 Effect Classes
What's the Difference Between Pyrotechnics and Flame Effects?
It can be in the eye of the beholder, but here is a good rule -- if the fuel is compounded with an oxidizer and needs no air to burn, it's pyrotechnic. If the effect uses raw fuel, such as gasoline or propane, and the fuel gets its oxygen to burn from the air, it is a flame effect.
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