‘Cause We Got the Fire and We Gonna Let it Burn!

The semester is going by so fast as quick as how fire spreads. We have been doing lectures and computational exercises to heat up our brains and ready it as bright as flame for the coming semesters and the real fire world. But, as engineers, we are applied scientists. We love seeing the practical. We marvel at how things work. We understand theory better when we see it in action. So, that is what we did, experiment time!

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Burning material from the actual test

In Fire Dynamics course, we study the basics of fire – from the amazing physics of candle light to how fire starts and propagates. We know for a fact that fire is one of the most devastating disasters in the world. At the first few moments, common fire can easily be controlled. Just add water and poof! Fire is gone. If that is the case, then why do we still have lots of fire-related accidents? Why did the fire become so large?

That is what we were tasked to find out in our first real fire activity! Well, not directly, but probably find out its importance in real life. Last October 10 and 31, 2017, IMFSE students along with the local MFSE students and post-graduates conducted a cone calorimeter experiment in Warrington Fire Gent. We tested journal paper, cardboard, copy paper and wood. All of which are common household and office materials.

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Ines and Jamie carefully listening to the lab technician’s instructions

The experiment links the oxygen concentration with heat release and mass loss. That makes a lot of sense because after all, oxygen is one of the main ingredients of fire. We also investigated the effect of the form of the material whether it is massive or dispersed and the presence and absence of radiation during the burning process. It was a lot fun seeing the application of what we do in class and an undeniable proof that not everything can be learned inside a compartment we call a classroom.

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Ines is really into it. Don’t go any closer, Ines, it is hot!

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One sneaky groufie during the experiment!  Kristi is blocking Balsa 1f604.png and we missed Giorgos and Jamie in this picture.

Oh, and back to the question earlier, why did the fire become so large? Heat release rate! Heat produces more heat in such a way that if the heat produced initially managed to make adjacent materials become hot enough for them to pyrolyze and ignite, additional heat will be released since combustion is exothermic. It is like a chain reaction!

So, understanding that material, form and radiation have significant roles in fire, I have a very simple suggestion to at least lower the heat release rate in case your room catch fire. Material-wise, most of what we have at home are combustibles. I cannot tell you not to have a paper or wood or even a sofa at home. Form-wise, clean your room and put things in order. 😉 Remember that materials in dispersed or spread form have higher heat release rate! Radiation-wise, it is up to you if you are going to reduce the heat from your radiator especially at this time of the year. Winter is coming! You might have lowered the risk of catching fire, but you increased the chance of having hypothermia. 1f604.png But frankly, for me, all of these suggestions will not significantly reduce fire risk. It is still better to have a working fire protection system or a fire extinguisher, just in case.

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A blurred photo of a flame. I was about to delete this but Kristi said it is artsy!

I always hear these words from interviews of Prof. Jose Torero, the former IMFSE coordinator of the University of Edinburgh who is now at the University of Maryland, “We burn things for a living!” No, we are not arsonists. We burn things to investigate and bridge experimental findings to characterize new materials to be used for the construction and manufacturing industry. It is our passion and the commitment that we have to embrace. In a human sense, passion is like a fuel that once ignited, it keeps burning. Same as Ellie Goulding’s song, ‘cause we got the fire and we gonna let it burn!

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