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Fire is the rapid oxidation of a material in the exothermic chemical process of combustion, releasing heat, light, and various reaction products. Slower oxidative processes like rusting or digestion are not included by this definition.

Fire is hot because conversion of the weak double bond in molecular oxygen, O2, to the stronger bonds in the combustion products carbon dioxide and water releases energy (418 kJ per 32 g of O2); the bond energies of the fuel play only a minor role here. At a certain point in the combustion reaction, called the ignition point, flames are produced. The flame is the visible portion of the fire. Flames consist primarily of carbon dioxide, water vapor, oxygen and nitrogen. If hot enough, the gases may become ionized to produce plasma. Depending on the substances alight, and any impurities outside, the color of the flame and the fire's intensity will be different.

Fire in its most common form can result in conflagration, which has the potential to cause physical damage through burning. Fire is an important process that affects ecological systems around the globe. The positive effects of fire include stimulating growth and maintaining various ecological systems.

The negative effects of fire include hazard to life and property, atmospheric pollution, and water contamination. If fire removes protective vegetation, heavy rainfall may lead to an increase in soil erosion by water. Also, when vegetation is burned, the nitrogen it contains is released into the atmosphere, unlike elements such as potassium and phosphorus which remain in the ash and are quickly recycled into the soil. This loss of nitrogen caused by a fire produces a long-term reduction in the fertility of the soil, which only slowly recovers as nitrogen is "fixed" from the atmosphere by lightning and by leguminous plants such as clover.

Fire has been used by humans in rituals, in agriculture for clearing land, for cooking, generating heat and light, for signaling, propulsion purposes, smelting, forging, incineration of waste, cremation, and as a weapon or mode of destruction.

Selected article

The Hamlet chicken processing plant fire was an industrial disaster that took place at the Imperial Foods chicken processing plant in Hamlet, North Carolina, USA on September 3, 1991, after a failure in a faulty modification to a hydraulic line. Twenty-five people were killed and 54 injured in the fire as they were trapped behind locked fire doors. Due to a lack of inspectors, the plant had never received a safety inspection in 11 years of operation, and it is thought that a single inspection would have easily prevented the incident.

A full federal investigation was launched, which resulted in the owner receiving a 20-year prison sentence, and the company received the highest fines ever handed out in the history of North Carolina. The investigation also highlighted failings in the authoritative enforcement of existing safety regulations, and resulted in a number of worker safety laws being passed. Accusations of racism were leveled at both the fire service and the city of Hamlet in the aftermath of the fire. The latter dispute, concerning a memorial service organized by the city, resulted in two separate, near-identical monuments being erected. The plant was never reopened.

The fire was North Carolina's worst industrial disaster, and the third worst American industrial disaster, exceeded only by the 1947 Texas City disaster and the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. (Mining disasters are in a separate category. Fifty-three miners died in 1925 in North Carolina in the Coal Glen mine disaster.)

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Did you know...

  • ...that the first known American female firefighter Molly Williams took her place with the men on the dragropes during the blizzard of 1818 and pulled the pumper to the fire through the deep snow?

Fire News

  • April 10: Deadly fire below US President's Trump Tower residence
  • January 26: South Korea: Fire in hospital housing elderly people kills at least 37
  • January 4: England: Multi-storey carpark in Liverpool gutted by fire, 1,300 vehicles destroyed
  • December 24: England: Fire at London Zoo kills aardvark, meerkats believed dead
  • January 3: UK documentary claims fire weakened RMS Titanic

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