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    Nigel wants to find out what really happens in a house fire – by setting a house on fire. The science of fires is well known. What surprises Nigel is the speed at which a wooden structure is transformed into a blazing inferno.

    The big thing that the science of fire teaches us is that the fire will always win. So get out.

    Nigel Latta

    Nigel Latta Blows Stuff Up
    Watch Series 1/Episode 5: Fire

    Science ideas and concepts in Episode 5: Fire

    In between the drama and humour, Nigel introduces a number of important science concepts. This episode explores:

    • combustion is a chemical reaction that requires fuel, oxygen and heat
    • fire is the visible effect of combustion
    • smoke occurs when there is incomplete combustion
    • heat energy is the result of moving particles.

    Resources on the Science Learning Hub provide an in-depth – and safer – means to further explore these concepts. Check out the ideas and activities below or access the detailed unit plan on fire. It is a Word document – usable as it is or easily modified to suit student learning needs.

    Fire requires fuel, oxygen and heat

    Nigel explains that our homes are like giant petrol bombs. The synthetic materials in lounge furniture, curtains and carpets provide a fuel source similar to 35 litres of petrol. Oxygen is in the air. Once heat is added, our homes can burn very quickly.

    Combustion is a chemical reaction that requires fuel, oxygen and heat. Fire is the visible effect of combustion. Our homes provide plenty of fuel and oxygen. Add heat in the form of a burning cigarette or cooking pot, and fire is the result.

    Learn more about fire

    The following articles provide information about the science of fire (combustion), how it behaves and how we can reduce its destructiveness.
    What is fire?
    Fire behaviour
    Slowing the burning
    Detecting fire

    Activity ideas

    These activities explore combustion and the fire triangle. They are suitable for mid primary level and above. The teacher resource details common misunderstandings students may have about fire.
    Exploding flour
    Putting out the fire
    Teacher resource: Alternative conceptions about fire


    Nigel comments on the thickness and darkness of smoke and how quickly it builds up. His advice is, “Get down, keep low and get out.”

    Smoke occurs when there is incomplete combustion. Nearly 75% of home fire victims die from smoke inhalation rather than the fire. Smoke’s dangers come from toxicity, obscured visibility and the risk of flashovers.

    Learn more about smoke

    Read about the chemistry of smoke, its dangers and why some fires give off copious amounts of smoke whereas other fires have no smoke at all.
    What is smoke?

    Activity ideas

    These activities provide an opportunity to observe smoke and to plan how to escape from it. They are suitable for mid primary level and above.
    Light a candle
    Fire safety

    This activity uses images and information to investigate smoke as a source of air pollution. It is suitable for upper primary level and above.
    Sources and effects of air pollution

    Heat energy and moving particles

    Nature of science

    Scientific investigations usually involve some form of measurement. Nigel uses the quirky, yet effective, flamingomometer heat detection array to measure the radiant heat coming from the burning house.

    Nigel tells us, “All matter has heat because matter is made of molecules and heat is made when molecules move.”

    Heat energy is the result of particle movement, and heat energy is transferred from one object to another. All heat energy is transferred by convection, conduction and radiation. Nigel shows us the effect of radiant heat with his melting ‘flamingomometer heat detection array’.

    Heat energy

    Find out what billions of colliding particles have to do with fires, the three ways a log fire can heat up the room and why plastic flamingos should not sit close to a fire.
    Heat energy

    Activity ideas

    These activities explore the particle nature of fire, heat transfer and convection. They are suitable for mid primary level and above.
    Drama in the microworld
    The flying tea bag

    Useful links

    Visit the New Zealand Fire Service website to access Get Firewise resources and to play the Get Out, Stay Out fire escape game.

    Use literacy resources from the School Journal to learn more about fire safety.
    Fire fighter! Part 4 Number 2 1992
    Fire callout Part 2 Number 4 1996
    111 – emergency! Part 3 Number 2 1992

    Learn more about School Journal.

      Published 19 May 2015 Referencing Hub articles