There is kind of fire behaviour called a BLEVE– Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion. A BLEVE is what happens, for instance, when a closed container of flammable liquid is exposed to strong heating. It can be caused by an external source, like a pool of burning liquid around the container, or it can result from a runaway reaction within a drum, cylinder, or tank. The internal pressure builds up more rapidly than it can be vented and the containment fails, often explosively. It is interesting to note from the above link that boiling action of the liquid phase in the container absorbs energy and has a cooling effect, but there may come a point where the vapor pressure rise above the liquid exceeds the capacity of the relief discharge capacity and the vessel fails, discharging liquid and vapor across the burn zone. At minimum, discharge and ignition will lead to a large flare, or if conditions are right, an actual detonation of the fuel/air mix could happen over a relatively large space.
These things often begin with some kind of tank or tanker accident (link updated 6/10/16) resulting in a discharge and ignition of flammable liquid. As responders arrive they find a burning pool under or next to the tank(er). Naturally, firemen and bystanders try to help those who may be hurt. As the minutes tick away and the fire becomes more aggressive and the tank gets hotter, the firefighters get their equipment in place and attempt to cool the tanker and suppress the fire. Suddenly the tank fails and there is a prompt bulk discharge of liquid and vapor yielding a large fireball which may include an explosive shock, flying metal debris and a dangerous heat pulse. It is at this point that the surviving bystanders and responders see the error of their ways.
Containers of flammable liquids rarely explode in a symmetric fashion so the container or its fragments are likely to be sent flying at high velocity, possibly spewing flammable material as it moves. Even a relatively small volume of flammable liquid dispersed explosively can fill a large surrounding space with a fireball.
All chemical plants have their protocols for emergency response. It is important for those in charge to recognize an incipient BLEVE and respond accordingly. But even academic chemists should familiarize themselves with the phenomenon. A fire in the lab engulfing closed containers of flammable solvents is extremely dangerous and very quickly firefighting may become your last earthly act, especially without personal protective equipment. It is easy to under estimate the violence of these things.
Every lab person needs to look inward and decide what their personal limit is for dropping the fire extinguisher and running for the exit. In my sophomore organic labs, the seed I planted in the students mind was this: The main purpose of a fire extinguisher was to fight your way to an exit.