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The Basics of Fire – Oxygen, Heat, and Chemical Energy

We all have been astonished by the fire we see around us, but how does it happen? What are the main ingredients? Here are the basics of fire: Oxygen, Heat, and Chemical energy. Read on to learn more about these essential elements. Posted in Fire, Science

Chemical energy

The burning of fuel in fire creates a chemical reaction that converts potential chemical energy into kinetic energy, primarily heat. This process is self-sustaining, as long as fuel and oxygen are available. The fuel and oxygen react to release heat energy, which is what makes fire so powerful. Moreover, fire also spreads easily, because the chemical reaction is self-sustaining and can continue as long as there is fuel. Here is a brief explanation of the chemical energy of fire.

Heat

During the early stages of a fire, heat is transferred primarily through convection. Radiation is limited by small fire plumes. As hot gases rise through the air, they exchange heat by convection and heat any surfaces that come into contact with them. The fire is then fully developed, consuming the bulk of the fuel and its oxygen. Once the fire has completely consumed the fuel and its oxygen, it is called decay.

Oxygen

Researchers have found that atmospheric oxygen levels have increased for about 400 million years. Rising tectonic activity, plant evolution and climate change have all contributed to the increased oxygenation. However, fires may have also contributed to the increase in oxygen levels. The increasing frequency of fires and the extent of burns may have suppressed the growth of new plants. Moreover, the increased amount of phosphorus would be lost from the earth’s soil, lowering the level of organic carbon burial and increasing the production of oxygen.

Fuel

In nature, a number of factors determine fuel for fire development. The prevailing vegetation, species composition, population structure, and effective rainfall all play an important role in fuel development. For example, Rutherford (1981) found that fuel accumulated between Grewia flava stems and burned almost to ground level. However, the amount of fuel and the size of the fire were not directly related. So, what is the best fuel for fire?

Convection

Fire spreads through direct contact between materials. Solids absorb heat from fire and pass it along the molecules, while liquids and gases burn by conduction. Both types of fire produce large amounts of heat, which is transferred from a hot area to a cooler one. This process accelerates the spread of fire. The heat from fire travels through solid materials, and it causes smoke and heat to rise, creating a hazard. In addition to the hazard of smoke, trapped air can cause a new fire to spread through gaps in the floor and ceiling.