SciCombinator

Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Fire

177

Fire whirls are powerful, spinning disasters for people and surroundings when they occur in large urban and wildland fires. Whereas fire whirls have been studied for fire-safety applications, previous research has yet to harness their potential burning efficiency for enhanced combustion. This article presents laboratory studies of fire whirls initiated as pool fires, but where the fuel sits on a water surface, suggesting the idea of exploiting the high efficiency of fire whirls for oil-spill remediation. We show the transition from a pool fire, to a fire whirl, and then to a previously unobserved state, a “blue whirl.” A blue whirl is smaller, very stable, and burns completely blue as a hydrocarbon flame, indicating soot-free burning. The combination of fast mixing, intense swirl, and the water-surface boundary creates the conditions leading to nearly soot-free combustion. With the worldwide need to reduce emissions from both wanted and unwanted combustion, discovery of this state points to possible new pathways for reduced-emission combustion and fuel-spill cleanup. Because current methods to generate a stable vortex are difficult, we also propose that the blue whirl may serve as a research platform for fundamental studies of vortices and vortex breakdown in fluid mechanics.

Concepts: Fluid dynamics, Hydrogen, Tornado, Fire, Combustion, Vortices, Fuel, Flame

157

Although the energy densities of batteries continue to increase, safety problems (for example, fires and explosions) associated with the use of highly flammable liquid organic electrolytes remain a big issue, significantly hindering further practical applications of the next generation of high-energy batteries. We have fabricated a novel “smart” nonwoven electrospun separator with thermal-triggered flame-retardant properties for lithium-ion batteries. The encapsulation of a flame retardant inside a protective polymer shell has prevented direct dissolution of the retardant agent into the electrolyte, which would otherwise have negative effects on battery performance. During thermal runaway of the lithium-ion battery, the protective polymer shell would melt, triggered by the increased temperature, and the flame retardant would be released, thus effectively suppressing the combustion of the highly flammable electrolytes.

Concepts: Water, Temperature, Physical chemistry, Rechargeable battery, Lithium-ion battery, Lithium, Lithium battery, Fire

96

Here we see why humans unwittingly build fires that look the same: edifices of fuel, as tall as they are wide. The pile of fuel is permeable, air invades it by natural convection and drives the combustion. I show that the hottest pile of burning fuel occurs when the height of the pile is roughly the same as its base diameter. Future studies may address the shape effect of wind, material type, and packing. Key is why humans of all eras have been relying on this design of fire “unwittingly”. The reason is that the heat flow from fire facilitates the movement and spreading of human mass on the globe.

Concepts: Human, Nitrogen, Heat, Human height, Heat transfer, Fire, Combustion, Fuel

27

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and particles emitted by incense sticks and candles combustion in an experimental room have been monitored on-line and continuously with a high time resolution using a state-of-the-art high sensitivity-proton transfer reaction-mass spectrometer (HS-PTR-MS) and a condensation particle counter (CPC), respectively. The VOC concentration-time profiles, i.e., an increase up to a maximum concentration immediately after the burning period followed by a decrease which returns to the initial concentration levels, were strongly influenced by the ventilation and surface interactions. The obtained kinetic data set allows establishing a qualitative correlation between the elimination rate constants of VOCs and their physicochemical properties such as vapor pressure and molecular weight. The emission of particles increased dramatically during the combustion, up to 9.1(±0.2) × 10(4) and 22.0(±0.2) × 10(4) part cm(-3) for incenses and candles, respectively. The performed kinetic measurements highlight the temporal evolution of the exposure level and reveal the importance of ventilation and deposition to remove the particles in a few hours in indoor environments.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Physical chemistry, Pressure, Volatile organic compound, Vapor, Fire, Incense, Flame

6

Prescribed fires are a common nature conservation practice. They are executed by several parties with limited coordination among them, and little consideration for wildfire occurrences and habitat requirements of fire-dependent species. Here, we gathered data on prescribed fires and wildfires in Sweden during 2011-2015 to (i) evaluate the importance and spatial extent of prescribed fires compared to wildfires and (ii) illustrate how a database can be used as a management tool for prescribed fires. We found that on average only 0.006% (prescribed 65%, wildfires 35%) of the Swedish forest burns per year, with 58% of the prescribed fires occurring on clearcuts. Also, both wildfires and prescribed fires seem to be important for the survival of fire-dependent species. A national fire database would simplify coordination and make planning and evaluation of prescribed fires more efficient. We propose an adaptive management strategy to improve the outcome of prescribed fires.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Agriculture, Habitat conservation, Fire, Wildfire, Controlled burn, Bushfire, Firebreak

6

Sugar cane harvesting by burning on Maui island is an environmental health issue due to respiratory effects of smoke. Volcanic smog (“vog”) from an active volcano on a neighboring island periodically blankets Maui and could confound a study of cane smoke’s effects since cane burning is not allowed on vog days. This study examines the association between cane burning and emergency department (ED) visits, hospital admissions, and prescription fills for acute respiratory illnesses.

Concepts: Hawaii, Carbon dioxide, Health, New Zealand, Fire

6

Fire is widely recognized as a critical ecological and evolutionary driver that needs to be at the forefront of land management actions if conservation targets are to be met. However, the prevailing view is that prescribed fire is riskier than other land management techniques. Perceived risks associated with the application of fire limits its use and reduces agency support for prescribed burning in the private sector. As a result, considerably less cost-share support is given for prescribed fire compared to mechanical techniques. This study tests the general perception that fire is a riskier technique relative to other land management options. Due to the lack of data available to directly test this notion, we use a combination of approaches including 1) a comparison of fatalities resulting from different occupations that are proxies for techniques employed in land management, 2) a comparison of fatalities resulting from wildland fire versus prescribed fire, and 3) an exploration of causal factors responsible for wildland fire-related fatalities. This approach establishes a first approximation of the relative risk of fatality to private citizens using prescribed fire compared to other management techniques that are readily used in ecosystem management. Our data do not support using risks of landowner fatalities as justification for the use of alternative land management techniques, such as mechanical (machine-related) equipment, over prescribed fire. Vehicles and heavy machinery are consistently leading reasons for fatalities within occupations selected as proxies for management techniques employed by ranchers and agricultural producers, and also constitute a large proportion of fatalities among firefighters. Our study provides the foundation for agencies to establish data-driven decisions regarding the degree of support they provide for prescribed burning on private lands.

Concepts: Agriculture, Management, Fire, Wildfire, Wildland fire suppression, Controlled burn, Bushfire, Firebreak

5

Many houses are at risk of being destroyed by wildfires. While previous studies have improved our understanding of how, when and why houses are destroyed by wildfires, little attention has been given to how these fires started. We compiled a dataset of wildfires that destroyed houses in New South Wales and Victoria and, by comparing against wildfires where no houses were destroyed, investigated the relationship between the distribution of ignition causes for wildfires that did and did not destroy houses. Powerlines, lightning and deliberate ignitions are the main causes of wildfires that destroyed houses. Powerlines were 6 times more common in the wildfires that destroyed houses data than in the wildfires where no houses were destroyed data and lightning was 2 times more common. For deliberate- and powerline-caused wildfires, temperature, wind speed, and forest fire danger index were all significantly higher and relative humidity significantly lower (P < 0.05) on the day of ignition for wildfires that destroyed houses compared with wildfires where no houses were destroyed. For all powerline-caused wildfires the first house destroyed always occurred on the day of ignition. In contrast, the first house destroyed was after the day of ignition for 78% of lightning-caused wildfires. Lightning-caused wildfires that destroyed houses were significantly larger (P < 0.001) in area than human-caused wildfires that destroyed houses. Our results suggest that targeting fire prevention strategies around ignition causes, such as improving powerline safety and targeted arson reduction programmes, and reducing fire spread may decrease the number of wildfires that destroy houses.

Concepts: Lightning, Humidity, Relative humidity, Psychrometrics, Fire, New South Wales, Arson, Wildfire

4

The ubiquity of polymeric materials in daily life comes at an increased fire risk, and enduring research into efficient flame retardants is the key to ensuring the safety of the populace and material goods from accidental fires. Phosphorus, a versatile and effective element for use in flame retardants, has the potential to supersede halogenated variants still widely used today: current formulations employ a variety of modes of action and methods of implementation, as additives or as reactants, to solve the task of flame retarding polymeric materials. Phosphorus flame retardants can act in both the gas and condensed phase during a fire. This review investigates how current phosphorus chemistry helps in reducing flammability of polymers, and addresses the future of sustainable, efficient and safe phosphorus-based flame retardant chemistry from renewable sources.

Concepts: Condensed matter physics, Chemistry, Polymer, Chemical substance, Fire retardant, Flame retardant, Materials science, Fire

3

Human-caused forest transitions are documented worldwide, especially during periods when land use by dense agriculturally-based populations intensified. However, the rate at which prehistoric human activities led to permanent deforestation is poorly resolved. In the South Island, New Zealand, the arrival of Polynesians c. 750 years ago resulted in dramatic forest loss and conversion of nearly half of native forests to open vegetation. This transformation, termed the Initial Burning Period, is documented in pollen and charcoal records, but its speed has been poorly constrained. High-resolution chronologies developed with a series of AMS radiocarbon dates from two lake sediment cores suggest the shift from forest to shrubland occurred within decades rather than centuries at drier sites. We examine two sites representing extreme examples of the magnitude of human impacts: a drier site that was inherently more vulnerable to human-set fires and a wetter, less burnable site. The astonishing rate of deforestation at the hands of small transient populations resulted from the intrinsic vulnerability of the native flora to fire and from positive feedbacks in post-fire vegetation recovery that increased landscape flammability. Spatially targeting burning in highly-flammable seral vegetation in forests rarely experiencing fire was sufficient to create an alternate fire-prone stable state. The New Zealand example illustrates how seemingly stable forest ecosystems can experience rapid and permanent conversions. Forest loss in New Zealand is among the fastest ecological transitions documented in the Holocene; yet equally rapid transitions can be expected in present-day regions wherever positive feedbacks support alternate fire-inhibiting, fire-prone stable states.

Concepts: Ecosystem, Forest, Forest ecology, New Zealand, Fire, Polynesia, Woodland, South Island