The thermal degradation of epoxy resin/carbon fiber composites has been performed in ISO 5660 standard cone calorimeter using a piloted ignition. Two kinds of composites that differ by their volume fractions in carbon fiber (56 and 59 vol.%) were tested in this study. The cone calorimeter irradiance level was increased up to 75 kW m−2 to characterize the carbon fiber volume fraction influence on the composite thermal degradation. Thus, main flammability and combustibility parameters were determined and calculated such as mass loss, mass loss rate, ignition time, thermal response parameter, ignition temperature, thermal inertia, and heat of gasification. As a result, all the characteristic parameters for the thermal resistance of composites were decreased when the carbon fiber volume fraction increased. Moreover, the main gaseous products (such as NO, CO, CO2, HCN, H2O, and lightweight hydrocarbons) emitted as well as the oxygen consumption during the composite thermal decomposition were also quantified simultaneously with a portable gas analyzer and a Fourier transform infrared spectrometer. The main species emission yields calculated from the gas analysis results increased slightly when the carbon fiber volume fraction was increased in the initial sample. The epoxy composite was represented as a sooty material with a significant production of soot particles during the combustion process. Furthermore, heat release rate, total heat release, and effective heat of combustion were calculated by using the oxygen consumption calorimetry technique. The results obtained showed that a small increasing of composite carbon fiber amount induced a sharp decrease of heat release rate and total heat release. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.