Remember 1984 when eight young people died at Six Flags in the Haunted Castle when a fire broke out in the haunt? It only took three and a half minutes after the fire began for the entire attraction to be engulfed by flames. It was this incident that prompted several changes to the NFPA 101, Life Safety Code.
Whether you are planning your backyard haunted house, or a haunted theme park - begin by consulting with your local fire authority. Their guidelines will provide fire safety standards and regulations for the construction and operation of temporary haunted attractions/events that are open to the public. Generally these guidelines will apply not only to temporary haunted houses, but ghost walks and similar entertainment venues where combustible decorative materials and distracting audio/visual effects are present.Your haunted house may have to conform to the International Building Code for temporary buildings or structures.
In California for example, the requirements listed in the guideline were derived from the California Building Code (CBC), California Fire Code (CFC), and California Code of Regulations, Title 19. Check with your municipality for a similar document.
Why is this imperative....aside from the obvious that lives must be protected, the fire marshal can shut you down on the spot if you don't meet the necessary criteria. In many states, a fire safety inspection is required prior to occupancy.
Below are images of the haunted Castle at Six Flags before and after the fire.
Black plastic AKA black plastic tarps that are fire retardant, are a favorite for creating walls and covering ceilings. Global Plastic Sheeting supplies internationally famous haunted theme parks! It is the black plastic sheeting product of choice! The key is to make sure the film has current certification 2015, and is certified, "fire retardant". Ultra Black Fire Retardant poly passes the most recent tests such as the NFPA cert Black plastic and the ASTM E85 Class A Test. Here is what the California fire safety manual states:
"All decorative materials (decorations, drapes, backdrops, and props) shall be either inherently flame retardant and labeled as such, or treated with a flame retardant registered with the California State Fire Marshal. Any material not appropriately labeled or certified as fire retardant shall be flame tested and approved by OCFA."
If you are going to use black plastic sheeting, insure that it is fire retardant. Make sure the rolls come with the appropriate documents certify that the plastic is fire retardant and will not burn and add to a fire should one develop.
Some states require the following: "Avoid use of combustible material in displays. If used, combustibles must be treated with an approved commercial flame‐retardant treatment. Samples of all such materials must be submitted to this office for flame tests prior to use."
Be ready to provide a piece of the black plastic sheeting to the fire marshal should he/she want to test it to make sure it is fire retardant.
To see the difference between fire retardant plastic and non-fire retardant plastic sheeting when a flame is present, click here to watch this short demonstration video.
With a little planning, your haunted house can be a smashing success!
And now for a little trivia:
Below is a quick internet search for the figures. They may not be entirely current- but never the less, they are entertaining!
How many haunted attractions exist in the United States?
The Haunted House Industry estimates there are between 1,200- 2,000 haunted attractions charging admission. In addition it is estimated that over 300 amusement facilities producing some sort of Halloween or Haunted House event. Additionally it is estimated there are over 1000 charity attractions.
What is the attendance figures for these Halloween events?
It is estimated that typical haunted attractions average around 8,000 paid guests. A major amusement park such as Knotts Scary Farms attracts over 300,000 paid guests in October alone. On a busy night the mega amusement parks like Universal might host over 35,000 guests!