Fire is the heat and light produced when something burns. It can be a blessing or a curse for people depending on whether its effects are harmful or beneficial. Early man had no concept of fire, but he must have witnessed the devastation it could cause. He must have observed lightning and volcanoes for a long time before attempting to use fire himself. He was terrified of fire because it was both powerful and dangerous.
Early man may have been perplexed by fire, but we now know that fire is the result of a chemical reaction. A chemical reaction occurs when oxygen in the air combines with carbon and hydrogen in a fuel. This process generates energy in the form of heat and light. This is what we call fire.
To start a fire, three things are required: fuel, oxygen, and heat. Fuels include wood, coal, cooking gas, and gasoline. The air contains oxygen. That is why, when you blow on smoldering paper, it frequently catches fire. Heat is the third ingredient required to create fire. Fuel and oxygen do not create fire on their own; otherwise, a newspaper or a stick lying in the open would catch fire. We heat a piece of paper or wood before it catches fire. We usually do it with a lit match. Every fuel has a specific temperature at which it starts to burn. This temperature is referred to as the fuel’s “flash point” or “kindling temperature.”
Fire, it is said, is a good servant but a bad master. It simply means that fire can be very useful if it is kept under control. Light production is one of the best uses of fire. Early man, who retreated to caves at night, was terrified of wild animals that could harm him. They could spring on him and attack him under the cover of darkness. Fire made him appreciate his surroundings more. Animals that attacked him can be injured and burned by fire. In fact, when he advanced with his flame torches, the animals retreated.
With the light emitted by fire, he could turn his night into day, allowing him to be more productive and efficient, allowing him to survive in his harsh environment and outperform other animals. Food can be cooked by fire. Although raw meat and vegetables have advantages, no one can deny the delicious delights of cooked vegetables or roasted, barbecued, or steamed meat. More foods could be made more appealing to early man. Man also learned to create weapons and tools, particularly those made of metal and containing fire.
With improved technology, Man has learned to better his employment of fire which provides the energy for machines in the industry. Fire generates electricity and provides the power to drive our transport vessels like planes, ships, and trains. It incinerates metals, and its heat melts metals for separation from ores. Metals are bent and shaped into desired products used by Man. Hence, the fire used by Man and properly controlled by him has been the boon of mankind.
Fires, however, which are uncontrolled, destroy and kill. The bush fires in countries like Australia consume valuable forest and farmland. In Indonesia, uncontrolled burning by greedy people to achieve their own ends, leads to a haze yearly over neighboring countries. This has caused health problems, decreased visibility for people, vehicles, and aircraft, and has led to a decreased productivity for many.
Fires that have burned out of control for an extended period of time have caused enormous loss of life and property throughout history. Large parts of London (1666) and Tokyo were destroyed by fires (1923). Without a doubt, modern cities that arose from the ashes of destruction are better planned now, and there are fewer slums. However, no one can deny the immense suffering they had caused.
The discovery of fire and its applications enabled early man to better cope with nature and gradually adopt a settled way of life. Many people around the world still worship fire. Fire is a friend, but as we all know, it can also be a dangerous foe when out of control. Is fire a friend or foe? It all depends.