Humans need fire to cook food, give heat and to help make materials
for everyday life. We also need fabrics to clothe ourselves from the elements
and to keep our heat inside at night with sheets. When fire and fabrics
come together it can cause trouble and harm to us.
What is Fire
Fire is heat resulting from the rapid combination of oxygen with a
flammable substance. Fire needs three components in order to burn. First
it needs a flammable substance, second it needs oxygen, and third it needs
a temperature high enough to ignite the flammable substance. A flame is
the glowing particles of the substance being burned. Flames are usually
yellow, red and orange but sometimes may be green and blue. The color of
the flame depends on the substance being burned.
History of Fire
Fire was said to be discovered about 500,000 years ago, although no
one knows how it first came about. Microsoft Encarta 95’ says “Maybe ancient
civilizations got ideas from watching the natural wonders of volcanoes
or land and forest fires started by lighting.” Those civilizations used
fire to warm themselves, cook food and frighten away predators. As time
progressed people learned that they could use fire to make light, weapons
and create better tools for war.
Kinds of Fires
Fire burns in many different ways. Some fires may be burning gases
or wood. Others may burn fabrics. All substances do not burn in the same
manner. All substances burn in different ways but all require plenty of
oxygen. Different things burn at different rates. One fire may smolder
while one might quickly flare up.
Methods of Starting Fires
There are two main methods of starting fires. One way is using friction
and the other uses percussion. Rubbing two things together long enough
and quick enough to generate heat, to ignite the substance is the friction
method. One famous example is rubbing two sticks together quick enough
to generate heat to ignite other sticks. Another famous way could be the
flint and steel method. One last way using the friction method to produce
fire is using matches. An English physicist named John Walker invented
the first match. The first match was a stick with a gum like substance
on the end of the stick. The gum substance would be soaked in a chemical.
When the tip was rubbed against something rough the chemical would ignite.
However, the percussion way is different. The percussion method is where
you use natural energy, such as the sun. When you direct the sun’s energy
into one spot with glass or a magnifying glass, the area will get hot enough
The ignition temperature is when something can ignite due to heat.
For most solids the ignition temperature is from five hundred degrees to
nine hundred degrees Fahrenheit. For gasoline the ignition temperature
can be negative thirty-six degrees Fahrenheit.
Fire is often harmful but can be very helpful at other times. A controlled
fire can thin brush and break down trees to make fertilizer for new growth.
It also can help build many materials for weapons and tools, such as hammers
or the barrel on a fully automatic M-16. Some modern uses of fire are stoves,
ovens, hot air furnaces, water heaters, boilers, and clothes dryers. But
mostly fire can give us heat and light. Some industries can use fire to
dispose of waste products. People can also use fire during war to directly
kill the enemy. But the most important use of fire is in jets, airplanes
or anything that’s gasoline powered. Fire creates a small explosion in
the cylinder, which makes the pistons move up and down to power the engine,
which makes the wheels turn so the vehicle will move.
Fire may be helpful but it can be very harmful at times. It can damage
or even destroy buildings, forests, people and animals. In fact fires destroy
billions of dollars in property every year. Fires also kill thousands of
people and animals every year.
Fabrics can be made of almost anything and can be turned into almost
anything. They can be made into clothes, draperies, or bed sheets. Some
fabrics are cotton, rayon, silk, nylon, polyester and wool.
Cotton is a plant fiber. When ignited it burns with a steady flame
and smells like burning leaves. The ash left is easily crumpled. Cotton,
in an economic sense is a great source of money. Cotton is most likely
the most important and the most used raw material as a fabric.
Rayon is a regenerated cellulose fiber, which is almost pure cellulose.
Rayon burns rapidly and leaves only a slight ash. The burning smell is
close to burning leaves. One interesting fact about rayon is that some
parts can be used in building a spacecraft.
Silk is a protein fiber and usually burns readily, but not necessarily
with a steady flame. Silk smells like burning hair. Silk cloth can be warmer
than cotton, rayon, and linen clothing.
Nylon is a polyamide fabric made from petroleum. Nylon melts and then
can burn rapidly if the flame can stay on the melted fiber. If you can
keep the flame on the melted nylon fiber it will smell like burning plastic.
Polyester is a polymer fabric produced from coal, air, water and petroleum
products. Polyester melts and burns rapidly at the same time. The melting,
burning ash can bond quickly to any surface it drips on, including skin.
The smoke from the burning polyester is black and has a sweetish smell.
Wool is a protein fiber but is harder to ignite than silk. The individual
“hair” fibers on wool are shorter than silk and the weave of the wool fabrics
are generally looser than the silk fabrics are. The smell of burning wool
is like burning hair.
In conclusion fires and fabrics do not make a safe combination. There
are ways to stop them from meeting and causing trouble. Keep your draperies
away from heaters and never leave anything hot running in your house unsupervised.
Fire is not an impossible thing to figure out but it still causes many
deaths and millions of dollars worth of damage each year. If you take the
right precautions you will not have fabric fires harming people.