Making Opposites Attract: Igniting a Water Feature with Fire Effects

Posted in Insights -

By Chris Roy, Director of Creative Design, and Allison Long, Project Engineer

“Fire and water,” he said, “don’t really mix. You could say they’re incompatible. But when they do love each other, they love passionately.” – Cornelia Funke

Commercial property owners and developers are increasingly seeking an element of surprise in their projects – a pièce de résistance to spark a deep emotional connection that attracts guests and increases both engagement and length of stay.

Water features with fire effects deliver just that impact.

OTL combines water and fire in some water features, and the results are an intriguing and inspiring phenomenon that magnetizes commercial developments and destinations.

Imagine a beautiful fountain with colorful jets of water dancing on the surface, juxtaposed with dazzling bursts of fire and lyrical or thrilling music. 

The improbable combination of these opposing forces – the cool, fluid water and the sizzling fire – delivers breathtaking displays that keep guests coming back to the venue time and again.

Knowing all these benefits, it’s important to also note that there is a time and place for fire effects in a fountain. These spectacular effects can be dangerous if not engineered, installed, and maintained correctly.

For property owners, developers and managers considering adding fountains with fire effects to their projects, here are three strategies to keep in mind:

  1. Be proactive about safety

When fire is introduced into a project, safety measures must be implemented from the very beginning.

Safety is first and foremost in all of OTL’s projects, especially when crafting water features with fire effects. 

Two top-line fire effect safety measures that today’s owners/developers should watch include:

Proper integration: It’s essential to conduct a proper site assessment when considering fire and make sure that the fire/water feature has a large enough footprint to keep flames a safe distance away from the public. Fire effects require specific infrastructure to ensure safety and serviceability while conforming with all codes. Obtaining necessary licenses and permits may require working with agencies outside of the typical fire and building permit authorities. Property owners/developers should seek out a design-build partner who remains current on these requirements and understands how to navigate them safely. 

Secure monitoring systems: All water features require monitoring and maintenance; however, these systems are even more essential when fire effects are being used. OTL creates supervisor stations that are programmed to gather ongoing input from a redundant system of sensors and triggers. This system includes sensors that can automatically shut the system down should a person climb into the fountain during a performance. Conspicuous emergency stop buttons are installed near the fountain so that anybody nearby can manually shut the system down if an unsafe situation were to arise, ensuring that safety is always maintained at each property. 

By proactively addressing any and all safety concerns from the beginning, the right design-build partner will create a safe and seamless experience for guests, allowing for uninhibited enjoyment of each fountain’s magical fire and water displays.

  1. Understand the desired impact on the audience

Fire effects are a powerful storytelling tool. Whether the goal is to evoke a sense of wonder and excitement or to introduce a thrilling theme of fear or danger, fire effects give a property owner or developer an opportunity to deepen the connection between a destination’s story and its visitors.

For example, at Texas Live!, a $250 million sports, hospitality, dining, and entertainment complex in Arlington, Texas, the developer was seeking an iconic landmark that would seamlessly integrate into its electrifying sports-and-entertainment-centric surroundings.

OTL concepted, designed and constructed a technology-driven show fountain situated in a public park next to the flagship Live! by Loews luxury hotel, with direct sight lines to AT&T Stadium, Johnson Creek, Texas Live! and the soon-to-be-delivered $1.2 billion Texas Rangers’ Globe Life Field retractable roof ballpark.

By infusing the special-effects fountain with dancing flame nozzles as well as 57 fast-paced chaser jets that launch water over 25 feet in height, six vertical air cannons over 60 feet tall, and over 200 color-changing lights, OTL delivered the precise impact the developer was seeking: a series of striking fire-and-water shows that delight Arlington residents and visiting sports fans while distinguishing the development from all others. 

Click here to watch OTL’s majestic fire-and-water show in action.

  1. Design with local surroundings in mind

There’s something very primal and mysterious about fire. Humans are both drawn to and in awe of it, and when combined with its opposite – water – people become entranced with it.

For this reason, a choreographed show fountain that erupts into flames is the perfect addition to a commercial project whose stakeholders want to evoke that emotion in guests.

It’s also the perfect addition to a local community or neighborhood destination, provided that all effects are designed with the local environment in mind.

For example, at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Florida, the OTL team designed and constructed a musical show fountain and the fire effect for an 11-story bronze statue of the mythical winged stallion Pegasus and a fire-breathing dragon. Combining theatrical statue lighting, fog effects, choreography, full-spectrum color LED lighting, and 14 pieces of music to pair with the water’s rhythmic movement, the fountain brings to life an epic battle between the two creatures, shooting a 30-foot jet of flame from the dragon’s mouth as it is being stomped by Pegasus.

This multimedia water feature works in a setting that supports such a dramatic performance and so many interwoven components. Similarly, all water features with fire effects must connect deeply with their environment.

At OTL, we always take into account factors such as the size of a fountain in relation to its surroundings, as well as the magnitude of the fire effects in relation to local dynamics and to the property’s story.

Size, in particular, dictates how fire effects are programmed, including how much intensity to build, how slowly or quickly fire floats to the top of the fuel nozzle, the direction of each flame, and how high a fire effect rises before being extinguished.

Flames must enhance the fountain’s other effects, and a delicate balance must be achieved between the structure, the water jets, the music, and the fire elements to create the desired impact.

Fire and water really do mix. A magnificent water feature with strategically integrated fire effects delivers a powerful punch of intrigue to commercial properties that can and will draw guests in from miles around, and keep them coming back for more.

To achieve this, today’s property owners/developers should seek out a design-build partner that understands how to safely integrate fire effects that deliver the desired audience impact while also reflecting the dynamics of the local environment.

When done right, water features with fire effects will delight, inspire, and elevate commercial developments above their competition for many years to come.