Chemistry of Fire

  by  Barbara Pawela


This lesson was created as a part of the SMART website and is hosted by the Illinois Institute of Technology




The discovery of fire and how to use it was of profound importance to mankind.   Volcanic eruptions  and fires set by lightning  may likely have aided in this discovery. It took some time to gain an understanding of the process of combustion. See http://www.grc.nasa.gov/WWW/K-12/airplane/combst1.html.

Fire is burning, which is combustion, and combustion is a type of oxidation reaction.  Oxidation means combined chemically with oxygen .  Oxidation is an exothermic reaction, meaning it gives releases heat energy.

The chemical equations for the oxidation of carbon and hydrogen are:

C+O-->CO2 (This reaction occurs when there is enough oxygen for the formation of carbon dioxide.)

2C+O2--> (This reaction occurs when there is only enough oxygen for the formation of carbon  monoxide.)

2H+O2--> 2H2O

These reactions release the energy you feel as heat and light.

What is fire?
Answer : Fire is heat and light from rapid combination of oxygen and other materials. The flame, which gives the light, is composed of glowing particles of burning material and luminous gases. For fire to exist, a combustible substance must be present, the temperature must be high enough to cause combustion, and enough oxygen must be present to sustain rapid combustion.

© Copyright 1997 Virtual Science Centre Project Team

Is fire matter?

Matter is anything that has mass and occupies space. The flame itself is a mixture of gases (vaporized fuel, oxygen, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, water vapor, and many other things) and so is matter. The light produced by the flame is energy, not matter. The heat produced is also energy, not matter.

Author: Fred Senese

 Fire changes the nature of substances.

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