Fire is a useful source of heat and light. Humans use it in cooking to prepare food more quickly and efficiently, as well as for safety reasons (such as boiling water to prevent illness). We also depend on it to create electricity from fossil fuels that are burned in thermal power stations.
The reason that we are attracted to fire is not the flickering light, crackling sounds and distinctive smell – although these all add to its appeal – but the sense of security and comfort it gives us. This may be a result of our evolutionary past, when Stone Age men socialised around camp fires and felt safe and warm, allowing them to focus on hunting, gathering and building their homes.
In our modern lives, we are even more dependent on the energy and safety provided by fire. Most of the world’s population now drives internal combustion vehicles that use fuel and oxygen to produce fire, which produces the electricity we all use in our homes.
However, it is important to remember that, despite its many benefits, fire is dangerous. Even a small fire can quickly spread and be dangerously hot. And it only takes minutes for thick black smoke to fill a room, or for a home to be engulfed in flames.
During a fire, the temperature of the flames and surrounding air can rise to 1000 degrees Celsius, which is enough to burn skin and lungs. This intense heat can cause serious injuries, including loss of life and property.
Fire is not just dangerous because of its high temperatures, however, but because of the chemical reactions it causes. As the atoms of the fuel react with oxygen, they rearrange irreversibly and give off heat. This is called a chemical reaction, and it is the same kind of reaction that happens when an apple left on the kitchen counter browns or silver tarnishes.
Class A: Ordinary combustible materials, such as wood, paper, cloth, rubber and some plastics, that burn at a lower temperature than Class B. These can be extinguished by cooling them to below their ignition temperature.
Class D: Metals that, because of their chemical composition or structure, are prone to melting, exploding or catching fire. These can be extinguished using special powders based on sodium chloride or other salts; clean dry sand can also be used.
The best way to control fire is to prevent it from starting. Check daily burning restrictions before lighting your outdoor fire, and make sure that it is in a clear, well-fenced area with non-combustible material on the ground around it. If you start a fire, keep it under control by constantly monitoring it, and never leave it unattended. If you get burned, smother the flames with a blanket or towel and immediately rinse your burn in cool water for three to five minutes. Then, seek medical attention. Finally, always have a fire escape plan and review it with family members and guests regularly.