Treebeard's Stumper Answer
Wild Fire Bonus
Graybear sent this bonus fire stumper:
Can you name any natural causes of fire other than lightning? (I'm thinking of three others.)
I put this to the kids at school and we came up with:
- Spontaneous combustion/heat of decomposition. I've had compost piles get hot enough to char paper, but never quite to the point of combustion. I suspect it's possible, maybe in a dried out peat bog? One of the kids remembered a National Geographic documentary about big bird nests in Africa bursting into flame, but I'm not sure I trust that. Graybear adds: Seal some pine cones in a black plastic trash bag sometime (but not during fire season!) and leave it in the sun.
- Volcanic activity, of course.
Here are a few other less-likely speculations.
- The July 1976 issue of Scientific American reported evidence of an ancient natural nuclear reactor that formed in an uranium deposit in Oklo, Africa. There's more info on the Web:
- The Natural Nuclear Reactor at Oklo: a Comparison with Modern Nuclear Reactors, 1998 paper by Andrew Karam.
- Radioactivity in Nature on the Idaho State University Radiation Information Network.
- Where Fiction Became Ancient Fact, Scientific American article by Philip Morrison (June 1998).
- Spontaneous human combustion? Well, it happens in the movie Repo Man! Even if it's real, I suppose it still counts as human-caused fire. What about spontaneous squirrel combustion?
- Could a static discharge or a spark from colliding rocks set off a coal dust explosion, e.g. after a landslide?
- Can air currents act to compress the air causing enough heat to ignite dry grasses? (I would guess not. Santa Barbara/Goleta once held the world high temperature record after being heated to 133° by santa ana-like sundowner winds on June 17, 1859. That's hot, but not nearly enough for combustion. For more info, see my Pumping up for a Ride (14 May 99) stumper.
- Is it possible for wind to blow in such a way as to cause two trees (or two branches on the same tree) to rub together and cause enough friction to combust?
- Are any animals able to create fire? (Dragons?!)
- Could a piece of ice, shaped like a magnifying glass, focus the sun's rays enough to start a fire?
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