What Does Burst Into Flames Mean?

Burst Into Flames Meaning

Definition: To suddenly be on fire; to catch fire quickly.

People use both burst into flame and burst into flames. Currently, burst into flames is a little more common.

Origin of Burst Into Flames

This expression was in use by the mid-1700s. It likely developed from the phrasal verb burst into, which means to start suddenly.

The other part of the expression, flame, comes (through Anglo-Norman and Old French), from the Latin word flamma and means fire. The author John Milton used a similar expression in Lycidas in the year 1637: burst out into sudden blaze.

Examples of Burst Into Flames

define burst into flamesIn this dialogue, one employee is explaining to another about her dangerous car ride to work.

Deanna: I can’t believe I actually made it to work today.

Emily: Why? What happened?

Deanna: Well, I was just driving into work like normal. Then, all of a sudden, my car engine just burst into flames!

Emily: Oh no! What did you do?

Deanna: I jumped out of the car and called for help! My car is destroyed.

meaning of bursting into flamesIn the second example, one friend warns another to be careful while smoking.

Billy: Hey! Be careful with that cigarette. You can’t just throw it on the ground when you’re finished with it.

Angie: Why? What’s wrong? I’m sorry you don’t like littering.

Billy: Actually, I don’t like littering, but that’s not why I want you to be careful. It’s really dry out here, and there are a lot of dead leaves. Your cigarette could start a small fire. Before you know it, this whole field could burst into flames!

Angie: I don’t think that will really happen. Still, I’ll try to be more careful.

Billy: Okay. Thank you!

More Examples

The first excerpt explains how firefighters light small fires to stop larger ones.

  • Crews have been setting backburns to slow the fire’s progress, using pingpong balls filled with flammable chemicals that are shot from a helicopter and burst into flame when they hit the ground, lighting small fuels, such as pine needles, on fire, Haberstick said. –Denver Post

In the second excerpt, a space shuttle lit on fire when returning to the earth.

  • Exterior pieces of the capsule’s had broken off during reentry and burst into flame. A defective warning light caused much of the panic, but during those four tense minutes, it was feared that Mr. Glenn had been lost — along with the promise of the space program. –Washington Post


The phrase burst into flames is another way to say that something lights on fire rapidly.