Back in the 1940s, an epidemic of young boys’ burns was acknowledged as a result of Gene Autry cowboy suits igniting because they were highly flammable. Soon after, an epidemic of girls’ burns was recognized as being caused by flammable cotton sweaters. The sweaters even came to be called “torch sweaters.”

In 1953, the Flammable Fabrics Act was passed to ensure a measure of safety for consumers with regard to fabric fires. But this law and its standards don’t mean that clothing won’t burn. However, it will not ignite as easily and it will burn slower.

Different materials have different burning characteristics. For instance: wool is difficult to ignite and burns very slowly; cotton burns “like a torch;” rayon burns more slowly than cotton, but ignites easily; nylon is less flammable, but melts and will cling to the skin; whereas silk is much less flammable.

Loose-fitting clothes are much more likely to catch fire than close-fitting ones. Close-fitting clothes are less likely to accidentally come into contact with a flame. Loose, baggy clothes, long-sleeved shirts, or clothes designed with fringe, ruffles or frills are much more likely to catch fire than clothes without these loose features.

Rules were adopted in the 1970s which required that mattresses, rugs and carpets also pass flammability tests in order to reduce burn injuries, death and destruction in house fires.

If your clothes catch fire, what you do in the first few seconds will make a big difference in the extent of your possible injuries. If your clothes can be removed very quickly, get them off. If not, STOP, DROP and ROLL to smother the fire. Running may fan the flames and make things worse. If someone with you has his or her clothes on fire, throw a blanket or coat over the fire to smother it. In any event, act quickly. Any inaction gives the fire a chance to cause more severe pain and injury.