Feeling lost, and we've got the podcast for you, Laborites. I'm Christopher Roberts. And I'm Amanda Knox. I know what it's like to be stuck to wind up in a life I never expected. But your maze might be a cruise ship or your mentor, a terrorist husband. So get lost. With us starting October 16th, as we step into the personal labyrinth of people like Andrew Yang, LeVar Burton and Malcolm Gladwell, listen to Labyrinths on the I Heart radio app, on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.
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Hi, folks, from October 4th, 2012. My Saturday select pick is how fire works.
Yeah, you can light a match. Sure, you can use a magnifying glass and you might be able to rub two sticks together or use a flint in stone. But that is all just starting a fire. How fire actually works is much more complicated in a very, very cool. So give it a listen.
Why don't you welcome to stuff you should know. A production of high art radios HowStuffWorks. Hey, and welcome to the podcast, I'm Josh Clark. With me, as always, is Charles W. Chuck and Bryant Ceyda and this is stuff you should know. Josh, we let me stand next to your for sure. OK, come over here right now, ok. Sorry. It's nice and warm over here isn't it. Yeah, I'm feverish and it's smoky and I feel like there's chemical reactions taking place before my very eyes.
That's why there's fire. If fire is nothing, if not a chemical reaction.
Yeah, I got some. OK, have you heard of the Weinkauf Hotel. Yeah, but for every bill. Born and raised here, yeah, the Ellis Hotel was at the hotel fire. Yeah, yeah. You know that it's now the Ellis Hotel at the corner of Peachtree and Ellis. Yeah. Nice refurbished hotel back in 1946. It was called the Wine Cove Hotel. And it was the site of the most disastrous casualty wise hotel fire in U.S. history.
Yeah. In December 1946, 119 people died right here in Atlanta.
Yeah, very sad.
Forty 44, just under 44 years later in Las Vegas, Nevada, the MGM Grand had a hotel fire. Oh, yeah, 85 people died. Do you remember the MGM fire? No, Jim.
Grandpa, I was big deal. Not at all.
You I'm surprised because I kind of remember, like, seeing footage of that. When was this? 1980. Oh, no, I don't remember.
So both of these fires and all of the loss of life associated with them were the direct result of hubris toward fire. The wine, their fire exits one stairwell for the whole building.
I think it was like 19 stories or something like that. Yeah. The MGM Grand, they they didn't put up like 60000 dollars for a fire detection system in this one part of the hotel that would have saved everyone's lives.
So part hubris, part financial shenanigans. Right.
But isn't that kind of based on hubris? Yeah, I guess so. My point is, is that if there's one thing that we shouldn't have hubris towards, it's fire.
Agreed. We think we might control fire thanks to Prometheus being given it by the gods. Yep. Put fire controls us when it really comes down to it. That's right. You got to face off a tete a tete with fire. You're going to lose, buddy, because you're combustible. Yeah.
So also, we should say here, this fire, as it should be, a prequel to the how wildfires work. Yeah. And how spontaneous human combustion works. Yeah. Those two episodes are great.
Agreed. This will seal up our triumvirate. Now we're going to explain how fire works.
Yeah, I do have a couple of quick stats. You're talking about the deadly nature of fire. Yes, it does kill more people than any other force of nature.
I couldn't find that any source near that. But I saw I was searching for it.
And it brought up like a handful of plagiarized versions of this article on the Internet.
Oh, really? Yeah. Those are always fun, especially when it's your own little ones, not mine. This is a bill. Tom Harris, Tom Harris.
But I do have some stats in the U.S., at least in 2010 for residential building fires.
Over 2500 people died that year. And that's sort of in the wheelhouse. It fluctuates between twenty two hundred and about 3200 a year from building fires.
Well, cooking is far and away, the leading cause of building fire in arsonist number two, which I would have thought like falling asleep with a cigarette, would be above arson know, and then total in 2009.
And I guess this counts like any kind of fire in the US. There were close to 3400 deaths that year. So, you know, that's a lot.
Yeah. I mean, that's more than I'm sure, killed by volcanoes in the U.S. every year. I think you're right. You know, yes. This is one or two people following in to kill away from getting too close. Have you seen that footage of that scientist going? He's collecting some sort of, I guess, magma now from an active volcano in Hawaii.
And it was really nerve racking because he goes up, take the sample, he's climbing up the rim and then climbs back down. And right when he steps away from it, the magma comes up over the rim exactly where he just been climbing.
Wow. Like five minutes before. And so it would have, like, just just completely disintegrated in, I imagine. What did he say? I don't know. See like, holy crap.
Did you just see that. Well, the guy who was filming it was like narrating like, hurry up, get out. This is so stupid. Jeez. Yes, very cool. I don't know what you'd search, but it's up there on the Internet somewhere. Searchable pony.
Well, and that should do it. So check the Greeks thought the fire was one of the four elements Earth. Why water, wind and Fire, Earth, Wind and Fire and Water and Nash and Young write silly Greeks.
The reason why that doesn't really hold up is because Earth, Fire, Air, these are elements. Yeah, they're matter. Yeah, they're made up of atoms.
Fire is the physical manifestation of matter changing form.
Yeah, it's pretty cool. Yeah. Like when you think of it that way and we're going to describe how this happens.
All right. I can tackle some of this. Chemistry is not my forte, but it is a chemical reaction at its core between oxygen and fuel, which I mean, we'll probably.
Let's talk about like a campfire. Let's go with wood wood fires, by the easiest way to describe it. Yeah, the wood is the fuel. The what is the fuel oxygen's found in the air. That's right. But for these things to make fire, got to have something called combustion. Yeah. And which means you can have some sort of a spark. Um, well, actually not always, because as we find out, some things can combust without a spark, even if they get hot enough, like the heat is just so intense that it doesn't need any spark.
Yeah, but for wood you have to get it up to its ignition temperature, which is about 300 degrees Fahrenheit, 150 degrees Celsius, which is where you're going to start seeing some smoke because that is cellulose burning away. And it just occurred to me reading this today, like where there's smoke, there's fire. Not true. Yeah. Because things can smoke without there being a fire. Yeah. Actually, a byproduct of fire, you know, doesn't smoke.
So I guess in order to if you're one of the people that now says bottom of the totem pole or instead of top of the totem pole. Yeah.
Then we can further reinforce this obnoxious quality by encouraging you to say where there's smoke, there is ignition, temperature of a combustible fuel, there's volatile gases.
It's a nice way to go, Chuck. All right, thanks.
So, yeah, heat is heat decomposes fuel. We're wheels to say wood. And in the case of wood specifically, it decomposes the volatile gases contained in the solid matter. Right. So these volatile gases start to heat up themselves. And while they're doing that, the cellulose, the solid stuff is decomposing and turning into what's called char.
Yeah, I got a little thing inside cellulose and then you can just take it home. No, man, because that's where I get confused.
I'm confused too. Cellulose about 40, 50 percent of what is cellulose. And that's what I like. That's where you make paper is what you make paper from. That's what you make cellulosic ethanol from, too. And it's what you make cellophane out of. You know that no cellophane is regenerated cellulose. So it's it's like it looks like plastic, but it's not.
I had no idea. It is a manmade I'm sorry. It's a natural polymer. Plastic is manmade, obviously. Right.
So cellophane is nothing more than regenerated paper in a way. Wow. Like they had some other stuff to it, but that's why it's biodegradable. And I always wonder why, like, supposedly cellophane is biodegradable. It's like that's impossible. It's plastic, but it's not plastic.
There's this old cellophane and from like the 50s maybe. And it's like good things come in twos. And it's like this pair of twins wrapped in cellophane.
Oh my God. Yeah. And they're just like kind of looking around, but wow. Yeah. You can imagine they only have in there for a few seconds before they out the picture for awesome.
I did not know that about cellophane. Just a little bit back to the podcast right there. No, I don't know about that. Hat's off to you. All right. Back to Toronto. I know at the back of the podcast is you going to save it for when it comes?
We got to save it, OK? Hey, it's Bobby Bones, executive producer of Make It Up as we Go, the brand new podcast from Audio Up and I Heart Radio brought to you exclusively by Unilever's Noor and Magnum Brands. The story follows a songwriter's journey as well as the songs themselves and how they make it to country radio from executive producer Miranda Lambert and creators Scarlett Burke and Jared Goosestep, a story inspired by the competitive world of Nashville writing rooms featuring original music by Scarlett Burke, director and executive producer, featuring some of the biggest names in country, including the guy and everything now nowadays.
Everything just working out. It's been like one day on a Saturday night, make it up as we go only on the podcast network in association with audio of media created by Scarlett Burke and Jared Goosestep. OK, so you've got the cellulose, the solid matter of wood, yeah, separating now from the volatile gases. Yes. That are starting to lift off that smoke, right? Yes. OK, the the wood the solid matter is starting to turn into char.
And that is basically if you if you burn wood, if you heat it up and you separate the gases, which are the smoke, what remains is carbon.
Yes. And what what charcoal is, is charred wood that's had the volatile gases burned out of it, which is why when you have a charcoal fire, you don't have smoke.
Yeah, or not much at least. Yeah. Because the gases have already been burned off. Yeah.
In charcoal too. That got that kind of got me on charcoal filtering because these charcoal is a filter and I think they use it as a scrubber too on smokestacks.
And if you're like I did some of those survival articles at one point and one of the things you can do to purify water is take your char from your fire, put it in like, you know, cool it down, obviously, and then put it in and put it in like a hankey and then running creek water through that to collect it underneath. That's awesome.
And and there's like real charcoal filters, too. But apparently charcoal has a quality because once it's pure carbon like that, it has a knack for filtering out things like impurities, like chlorine and letting other stuff get through. So that's why it's used as a filter.
Yeah, because essentially what you're making is a carbon filter. Yeah. Charcoal is like basically pure carbon with all the impurities burned off. Yeah. Those impurities burned off as smoke. They're volatile gases. So it's pretty neat. Yeah. That's pretty awesome. Little survival to man. You're killing it today.
Well this is when I go to sleep though.
OK, so the third component of burned wood, you've got the volatile gases smoke. You have the char. The charcoal. Yeah. Which is carbon and then you have ash which is unburnable minerals like calcium or phosphorus I believe.
Yeah. And if you like you ever cook with briquettes, charcoal briquettes, you're going to be a lot more ash with that because it has a lot of more like byproducts in it than if you use, like, real wood charcoal. Right.
But they're not going to smoke. There's not going to burn. Yes, it's going to be left over. Like you can't get rid of it. You can pounded into oblivion, but it's still there.
Yeah, but if you use the real wood coal then char then you'll notice you don't get a lot of that stuff. Oh is that right. Yeah. OK, but we're kids aren't as nasty. Are those synthetic briquettes.
No, they're made from char and like binding agents and stuff like that inside ourselves.
No, I actually used to hear that like oh you can't cook with briquettes are so nasty. But they're really I looked into it. It's not super nasty.
I probably should look for somewhere in between nasty and super nasty. Yeah, well it's not it's not as bad as I thought. I thought it was like a bunch of chemical agents and glue and cement and that's not the case. I got it. Yeah. It's not the hot dogs of cooking material, and it's the corn dog.
OK, OK, so we've got the components, right. Yeah. As these volatile gases continue to heat up to about 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Yeah. Two hundred sixty degrees Celsius.
The the, the molecules break apart. And when they break apart, they go to combine with oxygen. Yeah, oxidation, right. And the same thing happens with the carbon in the wood, but this takes place much more slowly. Yeah, but one of the the stars of this chemical reaction, this change of breaking down of these molecules and then the recombining into other things like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, water.
Isn't that weird that fire produces water and that's why sometimes you have steam coming from a fire, right? Yeah.
The star of all this chemical reactions of these chemical reactions is heat is produced, heat energy is released, which allows us to cook and be comfortable and feel secure and all the good stuff that comes with fire.
And because of the heat that's released as these things are heated up is sustainable. That means the fire is sustainable so long as there's fuel and there's oxygen present.
Yeah, that was the kind of creepy part and not creepy, but it's self-perpetuating. Like that flame is going to heat up any fuel near it to the point where it can release those gases to recombine with oxygen.
It's pretty elegant. It is. Think about it. Yeah.
Another big star of fire besides heat is light. And part of that is from the same the carbon atoms, right? Yeah. That are combining that are being torn apart. The molecules that form up the char. Right. Breaking down into their constituent carbon atoms. Yes. When they combine with oxygen. Right. Recombine. Yeah. I think that would make carbon monoxide. But as they change, they their electrons will go up, an energy level will change orbit, and when they come back down, they emit they release some of that energy that they have and they release it in the form of photons.
They produce light.
Right. And they can dispense. Right. Yeah, it's it's heat producing light. Like we talked about bioluminescence, where basically heat up a filament in a light bulb and it glows. That's the same thing with the fires, the same based on the same principle, which is incandescent. Pretty awesome.
And depending on the temperature, different colored light is going to be produced. Yeah.
Like you remember the Bunsen burners back in chemistry class. Yeah. And how the Bunsen burners have little slots on the side that you can vary the amount of, like, oxygen getting in there. You know, there's the little flickering orange flame of a Bunsen burner and if you let a lot more oxygen in, it's going to be more it's going to be more hot. And that's why that's when it's going to be that blue jet, the same as when you see like a jet plane, like right next to where the flame comes out, it's going to be like really blue.
And then it gets more orange and yellow, you know, like the Batmobile.
Yeah. You know, I'm saying I know exactly the original Batmobile. No, we've seen a bunch of Batmobile recently and there's a documentary about the Batmobile. Oh, really? Yeah, that's well, those were there for Comic-Con. Uh, OK. We had a woman I had her picture taken with it. With the which one. The new what.
Uh, the the Tumblr. That's what they call the new one, is it? Yeah, the Chris Nolan one is called the. Yes, Chris Nolan was awesome. It's pretty cool.
So, yeah, the the reason why the blue one happens to be a different color and hotter is because there's more energy being released.
That's right. The lower energy and slightly less hot part of the flame that glows orange. Yellow is at the top. And the reason a flame is pointed. This is cool. This is pretty awesome.
Not the fact of the podcast. The space part is OK, I think. All right. Go ahead.
So a flame is pointed and it burns upward because the the gases that are burning what you're burning right there are volatile gases that are being burned off. Right.
As they as they burn, they're hotter, but they're also less dense and they're moving upward toward the less dense air above it, which causes it to be pointed. But if you were to light, you take it for granted. But it's kind of cool to know how that works. Yeah, that's why it always burns upward. Yeah, it tends to burn upward now. It always does.
Always burns up. And that's also why it's pointed to because the air around it is dense and it's pushing it in. Yeah, right. Pretty awesome.
But if you were to light a fire in zero gravity. It would burn as a sphere. I want to see this. I do, too. I mean, can it be done if we go into zero gravity? Sure. Yeah, but I mean, they have zero gravity environments. Says, do they attack? Surely someone has started a fire in one of those.
Just to see this, I think is a really bad thing.
The fire starts in a zero gravity environment, I guess. So that's I just got to think that someone's tried this. I'm sure I'm sure there's video of it on YouTube. Now, there's probably a good reason why.
And someone's going to write and say, you dummies. Don't you understand that when you start a fire in zero gravity that we all die?
That's right. Yeah. OK, so, Steve, let's talk about steam because because we talked about the recombination of atoms, when these gases are released, the same thing happens when you boil water, you know, you get these this gas mixing with oxygen in the air, but it's not going to combust, thankfully, or cooking would be much more dangerous.
It's because some of these atoms aren't as attracted to each other in the case of water, for sure.
Right. Tepid toward one another. Yeah. If you're talking fire, though, they have carbon and hydrogen, which are really attracted to oxygen. And so they like to get together and combine recombine more easily. Right. Pretty simple.
And then we've been talking mostly about wood as a fuel, but tons of things are fuel. Gasoline is a good fuel. Gasoline doesn't produce char. Basically, heat vaporizes gasoline into nothing but volatile gases which burn. Yeah. So there you go. And I always heard, too, that gasoline ignites like the vapor ignites. Right. Not the liquid. Is that true? Yeah. OK, yeah. It's not the it's not the liquid. It's the gas.
Right. But heat causes all that liquid to turn into the gas.
Right. Which goes kaboom. So different fuels are going to catch at different temperatures.
And no matter what the fuel, it'll have a piloted ignition temperature and an unpiloted ignition temperature. Yeah, basically the pilot had ignition temperatures that um, that point that temperature where the volatile gases are being released and they're heated up to the point where if you introduce a spark, it would blow up. That's right. One of the defining characteristics of a volatile gas is that it basically disperses at room temperature, I believe. Right, OK.
So at some point, introducing a spark is going to set that off at some temperature.
Right. Which I guess means that, like, if you have gasoline cooled to enough of a temperature, just lighting a match next to it won't set off the gas. Hmm.
I don't know if this is a question we should be raising to seriously a general audience. Don't try this. I'm curious. So we'll have to check that out. Yeah, but the unpiloted ignition temperature is basically when something gets hit by lightning in the heat is so intense that there's no need for a spark. It just heated up to the point where now it's on fire or it can be. Right. Pretty cool.
Yeah. And I try to get to the origin of pilot like a pilot light, which is the same thing. I guess I couldn't find it. I know where that came from.
Yeah, because, yeah. Think about it. You've got the gas burning and the it's glowing now and then you just hit the spark and then bam you just ignited the gas. So it's at the pilot.
The pilot had ignition temperature in your hot water heater, but I'm sure someone knows the answer to that.
So if you do send it in, we're raising a lot of questions in this one and giving some answers.
The shape and by shape, usually they mean like surface area. Yeah. Of a lot of fuel affects how efficiently it burns and how easily it burns to.
Yeah, I mean, this is pretty basic. Like if you have a big thick log, obviously you're going to have way less surface area exposed. Yeah. And combustible than if you had like a toothpick. Yeah. And it can absorb a lot more heat. Too big thick log. But yeah, if you have a bunch of little pieces of wood it's going to burn more quickly. Catch more easily. Yeah. Because there's more explosive surface temperature and more of that fuel is exposed to the heat then a big like you said, a big log or something.
And that's why when you're starting, you know, if you ever watched a Bear Grylls do his thing or Les Stroud, they try to get the little like tiny little shavings from the inside of like you peel away the bark on a tree and then get the shavings off of the tree itself. Right. And that's the stuff that's going to, like, really combust easily through friction with like, you know, there's different ways of doing the little.
I've never been I've never done that. Have you have you started a fire using, like, friction? Yeah. Have you really? Yeah, that's impressive.
I do that stuff when I go camping now for fun like. Oh yeah. In front of the real fire you know that we've started with our big gliders. Gotcha.
Yeah. And I'm sitting there with my beer and my Southern Comfort and my comfy chair. Right. And the steak is on the grill. I'll, I'll do some little survival stuff, just kind of for fun, you know.
That's cool. Until I get tired of it and give up. Yeah. But yeah, it's fun.
Um, well hats off to you for knowing how to do that.
Well it's pretty easy.
I mean, there's different ways there's the plow method or the little Bo where you make the little string bow. Yeah. And do that little number. Yeah. I've seen that one. Yeah. There's the castaway one. Yeah. That's the plow method. Oh that's plow. Yeah. It makes sense to be called that like anything else. Uh I don't think so. Do you think, do you feel like we explain this correctly and. Well yeah.
I mean it's pretty basic chemistry or. Basically, heat breaks down a fuel so that it can combine with oxygen and ignite. Yeah. And then burned. That's right. And it's self-sustaining so long as there's fuel and oxygen. And then all you need is a bearskin rug and some Cinemax. And you're all set for Friday night.
Awesome. Yes. If you want to know more about fire, you can type fire into the search bar at HowStuffWorks dot com.
And that will bring up this article and plenty of other stuff, too. Um, maybe even some survival stuff by one Charles W. Bryant. And I said search bar. So it's time for a listener mail.
And we call this email bad to the bone, so Jocelyn Stone here in Victoria, B.C., Canada apparently hates bad to the bone just as much as I do. So we are your friends in that way, she says. A few years ago, my partner Tim discovered that he could set anything on his heart desired on his alarm clock for his cell phone. He searched for the perfect song and decided on bed to believe that in order to slowly get himself ready for the day, he needed alarms at five a.m., five thirty and six, that stuff.
I, on the other hand, wake up without an alarm at six thirty without fail, which is what I do. All right. Every morning I was shocked by the full volume Vanhanen er and er I was like, there's a way to wake up.
I think I would blast up to a sitting position in bed, my heart exploding out of my chest and look next to me at Tim who was sleeping through the whole event. I would punch him, get up, turn off the alarm myself and then repeat this to more times.
What kind of business partners are these? I don't think they're business partners. That was like in American Beauty. Yeah, that. Oh, yeah. It's like I'd like you to meet your partner. He's like, oh, what line of work you guys.
That was a quantum leap meeting loadstar, huh. Wow. Yeah. Well, could you, um, for some reason, no matter how much I begged him, he wouldn't change a song or let me turn down the volume. If I secretly change it for bed, he would change it back. If I tried to turn it off and hide his phone, he would find it and turn it back again. If I turn the volume down while he was sleeping, the Spidey sense would start tingling and he'd wake up and turn it back on.
It turned into a game that lasted a full year, finally ending. When I told them the sliver of amusement I found in the game was gone and I would throw his phone into the ocean if he didn't change it. So eventually she said Enough. Yeah, it's like this isn't fun anymore. I ended up buying an alarm clock radio, which he also sleeps through now, thanks to Tim, every I hear bad to the bone in public. I immediately leave the area lest I explode in a muddy, scalding, rock throwing rage like the woman you guys are.
Well, suppose. Yeah, so.
And then she said, do a podcast on accordion's after all that jazz. Who's that. Jocelyn, thank you. From Victoria, B.C., Canada.
Thank you. And Tim. Tim, good luck. Tim and Jocelyn. Hope you guys find a song you could both agree on. Agreed. And Tim, just get up, dude. It's time for some people it's hard.
I never understood this news because wouldn't you rather to sleep that time? No, I'm with you. But I'm saying like instead of being woken up, everything's not that easy to just wake right up and bright eyed and bushy tailed and accept others as they are. Uh, let's see.
What do we what do we want? Um, jeez, I don't know. I don't know either. We'll have to figure it out. Yeah. Um, yeah. Send us anything.
I guess it's a generic call out. You can send us anything via Twitter and that's why Escape podcast. You can join us on Facebook dot com slash stuff. You should go and send us an email containing anything. And if you send us an email, just as anything like you'll be one of 5000 people that do that. So just stop. Yeah, you can send that email that doesn't just say anything to stuff. Podcast that HowStuffWorks Dotcom. Stuff you should know is a production of radios HowStuffWorks for more podcasts, My Heart radio because of the radio app Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.