Smoldering Fires

Smoldering Fires


It is generally considered that about half of all house fires start as smoldering fires. By the time the fire services have arrived, many of these will have transitioned into a flaming stage, but their origin and early development will have been in the smoldering mode. Thus, for fire investigators and any other personnel interested in understanding real fires, smoldering is of major concern.

Yet, until now, it has been difficult to access information on smoldering fires. No book has been in existence devoted to this subject. Meanwhile fire safety textbooks and handbooks offered either no information on smoldering fires, or only a brief introduction into the topic. The current (20th) edition of the NFPA Handbook, in fact, does not even contain a chapter on smoldering fires. Some years ago, an editor of that handbook, Jim Linville, told this author the reason why: self-heating and smoldering fires are of major concern in real-life fire investigations. When the NFPA Handbook did used to contain substantive materials on this topic, its staffers used to be regularly subpoenaed to appear in court proceedings dealing with fire investigations to provide their expertise in these matters. As a result, NFPA deemed it expedient to remove substantive information on this topic from its handbook.

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Unlike the prior two books by this author, Smoldering Fires is wholly focused on providing practical advice on the subject. This is for three reasons: (1) Dr. Tom Ohlemiller has published a comprehensive review of the theory of mathematical physics associated with smoldering fires, and students of theory can consult that study. (2) Practical guidance on all aspects of smoldering, with the exception of runaway self-heating, is based on empirical findings and does not use mathematical theory or computations. (3) The mathematical theory of runaway self-heating has been comprehensively covered in the author’s Ignition Handbook.

One important novel aspect of the new book is a chapter devoted to smolder promoters and inhibitors. Fire investigators repeatedly encounter fires where all other potential causes were excluded, and the fire is evidently caused by runaway self-heating. But engineering data on the substance involved would indicate that greatly larger quantities would be needed than were available in order to cause thermal runaway and thereby to initiate smoldering. Analysis indicates that in those cases, what has most likely happened is that the substance was contaminated with some material which acts as a smolder promoter. Our knowledge of this topic is still very primitive. Nonetheless the first important step is taken in Smoldering Fires of compiling all known information on chemicals identified as being smolder promoters. It is likely that this topic will see burgeoning research in future years, and the compilation in the new Smoldering Fires book will hopefully form a basis for this.

The book is printed in full color, on coated stock. Consequently, all photographs which were available in color are reproduced in color here.

Contents of Smoldering Fires

  • Foreword
  • About the author
  • Introduction
  • Combustion mechanisms
  • The smolder environment
  • Materials susceptible to smoldering
  • Temperatures in the smolder process
  • Initiation of smoldering
  • End of smoldering
  • Smolder rates
  • Smolder promoters and inhibitors
  • MLR and HRR
  • Detection of smoldering fires
  • Fire suppression
  • Fire investigation issues
  • Test methods
  • Research needed
  • Summary guidance
  • References
  • Index

The entire book has been peer-reviewed by recognized subject matter experts.

Smoldering Fires is available only as a hardback, cloth-bound book. Format 8.5 x 11 inches, 104 pages. The book can be ordered here. There are no sales through wholesalers, distributors, or bookstores.




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