Is fire a solid, a liquid or a gas? (Smithsonian.com)
Is fire a solid, a liquid or a gas?
Lexile

The answer is none of the above. Contrary to what the ancient Greeks thought, not only is fire not one of four basic elements that make up everything in the universe, fire isnt even a substance. Its a process.

As any good Boy Scout knows, to light a fire, you need three things: fuel, heat and oxygen. Each type of fuel has whats called an ignition temperature for wood, its about 500F. This is the point at which molecules of the fuel break up because of the heat and become gases. These gases then react with the oxygen in the air and presto chango you get fire.

Fire will eventually burn itself out when it runs out of enough fuel, heat or oxygen. So it makes sense that traditional extinguishers work to remove at least one of these elements.

But heres where it gets weird.

Weve known since the 1900s that sound yup, you heard me right sound can extinguish fire. Although we still dont exactly understand how this works something to do with a drop in pressure leading to a drop in temperature researchers are developing technology that uses this nifty technique. But for now, stick to the tried and true methods of fire extinguishing.

Critical thinking challenge: How do traditional fire extinguishers remove one of the elements necessary to make fire?


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COMMENTS (157)
  • CORYK-ZDE
    5/29/2014 - 11:44 a.m.

    That is really cool and i never really thought about if fire was a gas, liquid, or solid. Of course it isnt a solid, and liquid puts out fire so it must be a gas

  • ANTHONYG-ZDE
    5/29/2014 - 11:49 a.m.

    This is a crazy breakthrough. Nobody was evening questioning what is fire? It may be all of the phases of matter. If scientists were smart they would find the truth. That this is a plasma!

  • LydiaBlackQ4
    5/29/2014 - 02:44 p.m.

    I myself have never wondered if fire was a liquid, solid, or a gas. But now that I think about it, that is a very interesting question. To answer the Critical Thinking Challenge: The traditional fire extinguishers put a cold foam over the fire to remove heat which is one of the elements needed to make fire.

  • JordanGreenQ4
    5/29/2014 - 02:45 p.m.

    Well obviously its not a liquid cause you can't put it in water then it will just go out. It is not a solid because you can't move it for place to place. What I think it is is a mixture off the gas that the smoke produces is flammable to the oxygen.

  • Chad5515
    5/29/2014 - 02:54 p.m.

    I fire extinguisher contains something called agent which is used to actually put of the elements out in a fire to make it so the fire can not expand.

  • JaydonJblueQ4
    5/29/2014 - 04:40 p.m.

    I wonder how sound can stop a fire burning? Maybe the sound is like wind like if you blow on a fire it goes out. Well maybe it is sound waves in the air that blows out the fire.

  • RyanSOrangeQ4
    5/29/2014 - 04:40 p.m.

    I never was a boy scout but my dad taught me everything I need to know about fire, and how you start a fire. Fire is neither one because it is heat and light so it isn't matter.

  • JordanTRedQ4
    5/29/2014 - 04:41 p.m.

    I already learned that in science class fire isn't even matter much less a solid liquid or gas. I like fire a lot and I know a lot about it.

  • MichaelCamoq4
    5/29/2014 - 04:45 p.m.

    That was beyond my knowledge I honestly thought it was a gas but if its none of the above that something that makes me think because any person can say fires a gas and seem like they got the wright answer but its none of the above thats strange.

  • GavynBlackQ4
    5/29/2014 - 04:47 p.m.

    It does not surprise me that fire is not a state of matter because, fire couldn't be a gas because the fires smoke is a gas, not the fire. But fire is so cool because its a growing ''living'' substance.

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