Fire is the rapid oxidation of a material in the exothermic chemical process of combustion, releasing heat, light and various reaction products. The flame is the visible portion of the fire. 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 has been used by humans for cooking, generating heat, light, signaling and propulsion purposes. The ability to control fire was a dramatic change in the habits of early humans. Making fire to generate heat and light made it possible for people to cook food, increasing the variety and availability of nutrients. The heat produced would also help people stay warm in cold weather, enabling them to live in cooler climates. Fire also kept nocturnal predators at bay. Evidence of cooked food is found from 1.9 million years ago, although there is a theory that fire could have been used in a controlled fashion about 1,000,000 years ago.
The negative effects of fire include hazard to life and property, atmospheric pollution and water contamination. Fire has also been used for centuries as a method of torture and execution, as evidenced by death by burning as well as torture devices such as the iron boot, which could be filled with water, oil or even lead and then heated over an open fire to the agony of the wearer.
Fire has been an important part of all cultures and religions from pre-history to modern day and was vital to the development of civilization. Fire is one of the four classical elements in ancient Greek philosophy and science. It was commonly associated with the qualities of energy, assertiveness and passion. Fire is also sometimes associated with deities of trickery and chaos - probably because while we may think we have domination over it, ultimately it is the fire itself that is in control. Fire is often connected with Loki, the Norse God of chaos, and the Greek Hephaestus (Roman Vulcan) the God of metalworking, who demonstrates no small amount of deceit.
Fires start when a flammable and/or a combustible material, in combination with a sufficient quantity of an oxidizer such as oxygen gas or another oxygen-rich compound (though non-oxygen oxidizers exist), is exposed to a source of heat or ambient temperature above the flash point for the fuel/oxidizer mix, and is able to sustain a rate of rapid oxidation that produces a chain reaction. Once ignited, a chain reaction must take place whereby fires can sustain their own heat by the further release of heat energy in the process of combustion and may propagate, provided there is a continuous supply of an oxidizer and fuel.
National Fire Prevention Week is observed in the United States and Canada, during the week (from Sunday to Saturday) in which October 9 falls. In the United States, the first Presidential proclamation of Fire Prevention Week was made in 1925 by President Calvin Coolidge. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) continues to be the international sponsor of the week.
In Canada, Fire Prevention Week is proclaimed annually by the Governor General. The earliest known provincial proclamation of Fire Prevention Day was by the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council of Ontario in 1916. The Saturday ending the week is also proclaimed as Fire Service Recognition Day to express appreciation for the many public services rendered by members of the Canadian fire service.
The Fire Prevention Week commemorates the Great Chicago Fire, deciding to observe the anniversary as a way to keep the public informed about the importance of fire prevention. When President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the first National Fire Prevention Week on October 4–10, 1925, he noted that in the previous year some 15,000 lives were lost to fire in the United States. Calling the loss 'startling', Coolidge's proclamation stated: "This waste results from the conditions which justify a sense of shame and horror; for the greater part of it could and ought to be prevented... It is highly desirable that every effort be made to reform the conditions which have made possible so vast a destruction of the national wealth".
Those who survived the Chicago fire never forgot what they'd been through; the blaze produced countless tales of bravery and heroism. Firefighters and equipment from as far as St. Louis and New York City responded to the blaze. But the fire also changed the way that firefighters and public officials thought about fire safety.
For example, many bedroom fires are caused by misuse or poor maintenance of electrical devices, careless use of candles, smoking in bed, and children playing with matches and lighters. Most potential hazards can be addressed with a little common sense. Be sure to keep flammable items like bedding, clothes and curtains at least three feet away from portable heaters or lit candles and never smoke in bed. Also, items like appliances or electric blankets should not be operated if they have frayed power cords and electrical outlets should never be overloaded.
Fire Safety Checklist:
- Install and maintain a working smoke alarm outside of every sleep area and remember to change the battery at least once a year.
- Designate two escape routes from each bedroom and practice them regularly.
- Teach everyone the 'Stop, Drop and Roll' technique in case clothing catches on fire.
- Avoid storing old mattresses in the home or garage.
- Teach kids that matches, lighters and candles are tools, not toys.
Conduct a safety inspection in your home. Check for frayed wires, minimize the use of extension cords and make sure combustible items are at least three feet from all heat sources such as the water heater, stove, furnace, space heaters and the fireplace. Gasoline should never be used or stored in the home. Keep matches and lighters where children cannot get to them. Properly discard smoking material in the toilet to ensure it is extinguished.
As Pagans, we often use bonfires and candles in our rites and gatherings. In rituals, fire is represented in the forms of burning objects, love spells, baking and lighting candles or fires. The manifestations of the element are found in the sun, candles, volcanoes, ash, lava and all forms of light. But as we use this element, keep in mind safety.