What Exactly Is Fire? Why Do Things Burn?

An introduction to combustion for simpletons like me

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Hi everyone!

Thanks for joining me.

Sometimes I come across something I've seen a million times, something very basic, something I ought to know, and all of a sudden realize that I don't have the faintest idea of how it works. This was the case for me with fire.

I mean, I knew it's hot and bright and that you can use it to cook stuff. But beyond that, I don't really had an understanding of it.

Well, I’m happy to report that now I do. After spending way more time on this than I anticipated, I now actually know what exactly fire is. So, if you want to join me in being enlightened, read on!


What Exactly Is Fire? Why Do Things Burn?

An introduction to combustion for simpletons like me

Hey, you! Do you know what fire is? Do you know how it works? I don’t mean how to turn on the stove or light a match. I mean, do you know what exactly is happening when you apply heat to a fuel and it suddenly bursts into flames? Why heat creates fire in the first place? Why flames are blue at their base and red and orangey at the top? Why fire emits light? Why fire needs oxygen?

No? Well, don’t you feel a little embarrassed?

There you are, proudly calling yourself a Homo sapiens — a knowledgeable ape — and feeling all smug. And yet you don’t know the first thing about fire. Your grunting caveman ancestor who mastered fire over 1,000,000 years ago probably knew more about it than you. That troglodyte could at least start a fire by rubbing some sticks together while you and I probably …

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Thanks for reading!

—David

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