Turning Up the Heat: How Fire Sound Effects Are Used in Film and TV

By Ezra Sandzer-Bell

Fire sound effects can act as background ambience or become the central focus of a scene. Conversations beside a crackling campfire can lull a character to sleep. Scale that fire up to consume a building and the sound effect’s meaning becomes entirely different.

This article explores a variety of fire sounds and how they’ve been used throughout the history of film and television. We’ve also pulled together a selection of royalty-free fire sound effects from the Audio Design Desk library. You can preview them below and download the sample pack to use them in your own projects.

fire sound effects fire whoosh fire crackle burning

Fire Sound Effects

Nature, Foley, Sound Design

Released 05/20/2024 · 18 Tracks ·

#Track NameGenreKeywordsDuration
1IgnitionFoley,Nature,Sound DesignIgnition...
2Fire Whoosh 3Foley,Nature,Sound DesignWhoosh...
3Fire Whoosh 1Foley,Nature,Sound DesignWhoosh...
4Fire Whoosh 2Foley,Nature,Sound DesignWhoosh...
5Fire Magic Spell 1Foley,Nature,Sound DesignMagic...
6Fire Magic Spell 2Foley,Nature,Sound DesignMagic...
7Fire Magic Spell 3Foley,Nature,Sound DesignMagic...
8Building Fire 4Foley,Nature,Sound DesignBuilding...
9Building Fire 3Foley,Nature,Sound DesignBuilding...
10Building Fire 1Foley,Nature,Sound DesignBuilding...
11Building Fire 2Foley,Nature,Sound DesignBuilding...
12Firewood 3Foley,Nature,Sound DesignFirewood...
13Firewood 4Foley,Nature,Sound DesignFirewood...
14Firewood 2Foley,Nature,Sound DesignFirewood...
15Firewood 1Foley,Nature,Sound DesignFirewood...
16Wildfire 1Foley,Nature,Sound DesignWildfire...
17Wildfire 2Foley,Nature,Sound DesignWildfire...
18Wildfire 3Foley,Nature,Sound DesignWildfire...

Building a narrative with fire sound effects

Humans have had a complicated relationship with fire since the dawn of civilization. We huddled around it for warmth at night and forged our weapons in the heat of those flames. That ancestral memory gives power to the ways fire shows up in movies and TV. Let’s have a look at some examples.

Cast Away – Tom Hanks makes a campfire

Fires often start small — especially when they ignite the old-fashioned way. This clip from Cast Away follows a tense scene where Chuck (Tom Hanks) struggles to light a fire in order to survive. He struggles to rub organic materials together until suddenly, we hear a satisfying whoosh sound and a small flame bursts forward in a moment of relief. He nurtures the flame and we watch it slowly growing, as additional fire crackling and popping sounds are introduced.

Capturing the sound of a small fire can be difficult. Castaway’s sound designer Randy Thom explains some of the challenges they faced in a behind-the-scenes interview below. The team had to record of a large fire blowing in the wind and sync it up with the small flame from Chuck’s kindling, in order to get the sound they needed.

Buried – Matches and Zippo lighters

The striking of a match or flick of a Zippo lighter is another common precursor to fire sounds. It’s often used as a moment of casual dramatic effect. Characters might be lighting a cigarette to look stylish, but in some cases the fire starter has a more important role.

In the film Buried, a truck driver finds himself trapped underground in a coffin, with only a cell phone and lighter for company. The movie begins in total darkness, with Ryan Reynolds’ character trying to get his Zippo working so that he can see where he is.

There are no pictures to focus on — the sound of the lighter clicking open is followed by his frantic attempts to start the flame. When it finally lights, the whoosh sound gives the audience a sense of relief. Sound effects are particularly important in dark scenes like these, when audio becomes one of the only cues to what’s happening in the plot.

Howl’s Moving Castle – The sizzling sound of a breakfast skillet

Fire is also linked to positive emotions when it’s used to make a delicious meal. Cooking scenes like this one from Howl’s Moving Castle often depict a character making food over a fire. The sizzling sounds of the food are paired with subtle ambient hum of a wood or gas stove.

Notice how the sizzle and hiss of the bacon and eggs couples with a low rumble of the heat under the pan. The movie goes further than usual by turning the cooking fire into an animated character with eyes and a mouth. As the flame character whips its tongue around, you can hear the fire sound effects roar for a moment.

This scene shows how secondary sounds like the metal knocking of the pan build ambience around the core fire and cooking sounds. It’s a reminder that even a simple, everyday task can grip an audience if the right sound fx are used.

Rambo: First Blood – The flaming torch

We already touched on the fact that fire can be associated with nourishment or danger. Flaming torches are an excellent example of this. On the one hand, they illuminate dark and eerie places to provide clarity for a character’s journey. They can be used to ward off monsters as well. However, that same torch can be used by evil-doers to set fire to a home or village.

In Rambo: First Blood, John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) makes an improvised torch with strips of his clothing and some fuel that he finds. The fire lights his way forward and he follows the direction of the wind.

Listen to how sfx adds to the shadowy atmosphere with the sound of material igniting. The light crackle of the torch and the whoosh as the wind blows against the flame give it even more life.

The Mandalorian – Firing up the flamethrower

Flamethrowers are a modern and one-dimensional version on the torch. Instead of lighting the way, they project streams of fire at an enemy and are often represented by a more fluid and continuous flame sound effect.

Sci-fi and video games have become one of the most common places to see these a flamethrower in action. In The Mandalorian, a character named Din Djarin wears a suit with one of these weapons built into the glove. He uses it to burn a stormtrooper alive in the scene below:

Raiders of the Lost Ark – Fire ambience in a burning building

In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones fights a team of Nazi agents while the sounds gun fire and fire burning carry on in the background. This action-packed scene becomes even more intense with the ambient fire sounds, suggesting imminent danger for everyone involved.

Notice how the sound designers used swoosh sfx when the liquor ignites on the bar. The burning artifact can be heard on the agent’s hand and the sound of the fire gradually increases as it gets bigger in size.

The Hunger Games – Dodging fireballs in a burning forest

Fireballs do exist in real life, but like flamethrowers they’re more commonly found in sci-fi and fantasy. They’re about as far from a crackling campfire as you’ll get. There’s never anything subtle about them — or the sound effects they require.

The rush of a fireball towards its target can put an audience on the edge of their seat. In this clip from Hunger Games, we see Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) dodging them as a huge forest fire rages around her. Notice how the whoosh sounds emphasize the speed of the fireballs narrowly missing her.

Deepwater Horizon – An oil rig explodes

Explosions sounds are often combined with the ambience of a big fire. In the movie Deepwater Horizon, an oil rig that blows up in the Gulf of Mexico and initial boom is quickly followed by a series of massive fireballs. An inferno roars up into the derrick of the rig, creating additional mini explosions as the oil beneath ignites.

Creating fire sound effects (without burning your microphone)

Disclaimer: Audio Design Desk doesn’t sell link placements or place affiliate links in any article. We’ve added callouts with links in this next section, in order to help you find the right tools for the job. We are not partnered with any of these companies. 

Knowing how to create fire sounds from scratch is an essential sound design skill. By layering various recordings and manipulating them with effects, you can create a convincing and dynamic fire soundscape. Here’s a detailed guide on how to achieve this:

Step-by-Step Guide to Making Your Own Fire Sounds

1. Recording Source Sounds

  • High-Frequency Crackling:
    • Bubble Wrap:
      • Pop bubble wrap close to a microphone to capture the crackling sound.
    • Cellophane:
      • Crumple cellophane to create a high-frequency crackling effect.
    • Paper:
      • Tear or crumple paper to add texture to the crackling layer.
    • Wood Creaking/Bending:
      • Record the sound of wood creaking or bending for additional high-frequency details.
  • Low and Mid-Range Noise:
    • Blowing into a Microphone:
      • Gently blow into a microphone to create a low, rumbling noise. Experiment with different blowing intensities to capture a range of dynamics.
    • Filtering:
      • Use a low-pass filter to isolate the lowest frequencies for the feeling of force and energy.
      • Use a band-pass filter to isolate mid-range frequencies to generate the feeling of motion and air.

2. Layering and Processing the Sounds

  • Layering:
    • Import all recorded sounds into your DAW.
    • Layer the high-frequency crackling sounds (bubble wrap, cellophane, paper, wood) together. Adjust their levels and panning to create a natural, dynamic crackling effect.
    • Layer the low and mid-range noise (blowing into the mic) beneath the crackling sounds. Adjust their levels to ensure they add depth without overpowering the high frequencies.
  • Adding Texture with Distortion:
    • Plugin Recommendations: FabFilter Saturn, Soundtoys Decapitator, or iZotope Trash 2.
    • Apply distortion to some of the layers to add harmonic richness and texture. Adjust the drive and mix to blend the distorted sound naturally with the original recordings.
  • Creating Space with Reverb:
    • Plugin Recommendations: Valhalla Room, Waves H-Reverb, or Altiverb.
    • Apply a large, ambient reverb to create a sense of space. This helps the fire sound move and breathe, making it more immersive.
    • Adjust the wet/dry mix to ensure the reverb enhances the sound without washing it out.
  • Gelling the Sounds with Compression:
    • Plugin Recommendations: FabFilter Pro-C 2, Waves SSL Compressor, or Logic Pro’s Compressor.
    • Apply compression to glue the layers together. Use a moderate attack and release to maintain the natural dynamics while ensuring all elements sit well in the mix.
    • Adjust the threshold and ratio to control the overall dynamic range and bring out the details.

3. Final Touches and Fine-Tuning

  • EQ:
    • Use EQ to shape the final sound. Remove any unwanted frequencies and enhance the important elements.
    • Boost the low frequencies slightly to add weight and power. Enhance the high frequencies to ensure the crackling remains clear and detailed.
  • Automation:
    • Automate volume, panning, and effects parameters to add movement and variation to the fire sound. This can help simulate the natural ebb and flow of a real fire.
  • Layering Additional Sounds:
    • Consider adding subtle ambient sounds like distant wind or occasional sparks to enhance realism.

Tips for Effective Fire Sound Design

  • Experimentation: Don’t be afraid to experiment with different materials and recording techniques to find unique textures.
  • Layering: Combine multiple layers to create a rich, dynamic sound. Ensure each layer contributes something unique to the overall effect.
  • Subtle Effects: Use effects like distortion and reverb subtly to enhance the sound without overpowering the natural recordings.
  • Attention to Detail: Pay close attention to the details, such as the balance between high-frequency crackling and low/mid-range noise, to ensure a realistic and immersive fire sound.

By following these steps and tips, you can create a convincing and dynamic fire soundscape that enhances your audio projects. Experiment with different techniques and materials to discover your own unique approach to fire sound design.

These days, it’s not difficult to obtain high quality sounds from royalty free libraries. If you don’t have the right gear or want to save time, we’ve provided a fire sound pack at the top of this article that you can use for free, in any project. If those fire sounds aren’t quite what you need, pick up a free copy of Audio Design Desk to access the complete sound effects library.