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What is a fire?

When inflammable material, heat and oxygen combine, the result is a fire. A rapidly developing, uncontrolled fire quickly becomes a great conflagration, which can end up burning property and infrastructure: home fires have burnt furniture to ashes. Thousands of acres of trees have been destroyed, as if they had never existed. These results of fire are destructive enough, but history has known yet more disastrous fires that led to loss of life as well.
Fires threaten direct harm to the human body, damage caused by flames and heat and even, indirectly, side effects of the fire (choking caused by smoke inhalation, or building collapse due to heat that can melt its structural frame).
A fire can be an emergency event in itself or the consequence of a different emergency event (earthquake, spread of dangerous materials, etc).
Widespread damage due to fire requires long periods of rehabilitation (the rehabilitation of a forest destroyed by fire can take as much as decades) and may even be irreversible.

1. Inflammable materials – most of the materials found on earth are combustible. With respect to their combustibility, the only difference between the materials is the temperature required to make them catch fire. The degree to which a material is ignitable is directly related to the elements it is composed of. All materials in nature are found in one of three possible states; solid, liquid or gas. The state of the material can usually be changed through the effect of heat or cold.

2. Oxygen – Fire is a process in which a specific material combines with oxygen. That is, the element Oxygen, which makes up 20% of the air in our atmosphere. Oxygen is colorless, odorless and tasteless. It appears as an element, as well as in combinations of animal, vegetable and mineral forms.

3. Heat – inflammable material will ignite in the present of heat and oxygen. For material to ignite it must reach a specific temperature, which varies from one material to another. The particular temperature is called the "ignition or kindling point".

Fires can be generated by natural causes such as lightning or volcanic lava, or they may be ignited intentionally by human beings. Israel, as we know, has no active volcanoes. Also, the chance of a severe fire being started in Israel by lightning is extremely low. Lightning strikes in Israel during the winter months. For the most part it is accompanied by strong rain, which soaks the vegetation and the ground. Under such circumstances, the chances are such, that if a fire is caused by lightning it won't succeed in spreading, and may even douse itself.
But the main reason that oxygen, heat and inflammable materials are able to combine is carelessness. Most of the fires in Israel and throughout the world result from carelessness:
Farmers who burn branches, without taking necessary safety precautions.
Sparks from welding rods.
Campfires that have not been put out properly and still contain live embers, etc.
Such factors, when combined with dry ground conditions and strong winds, are liable to cause the spread of fire to areas of planted forest or natural vegetation in the vicinity, causing a fire that will be difficult to control.

Accumulated experience shows us that three primary factors make the difference between a local event and a major catastrophe:

1. Preparation in advance and actions taken by people in the area: a fire that breaks out in an organization that is prepared for it (home, factory, office), which has the means for putting out the fire and people who what to do so, will not be able to spread and thus endanger or cause harm to human life.

2. The quantity and nature of the burning materials – because fires begin as dry brush or ground fires, the amount of inflammable material lying on or close to the ground is of great importance. This is especially true of inflammable materials, combustible solid objects (in the home), or low plant growth, dry pruned branches and remains of annual plants (outdoors), all of which greatly increase the danger of fire and its rapid spread.

3. Enhancing factors, such as wind, electricity, etc.

There are five different types of fire:

1. Combustible solids fire – this category includes solids that can burn, such as wood, textiles, rubber, etc. Each of these solid combustibles has a critical combustion point, which is the point at which it will burst into fire. When the material reaches this point it breaks down into its elements, some of which combine with the oxygen and ignite.

2. Inflammable liquids fire – this category includes the family of inflammable materials such as benzene, diesel fuel, alcohol, tar, etc. Inflammable liquids have three critical points with regard to combustion:

a. The "Flash point" – the degree of heat (temperature) at which a liquid will release sufficient vapor to create an initial inflammable mixture. An igniting factor is then required for the mixture to catch fire. If the factor is removed, the fire will die out.

b. The "Combustion point" – the degree of heat (temperature) at which a liquid will continuously release sufficient vapor to create an inflammable mixture. By means of an igniting factor a flame is created, which continues to burn even after the igniting factor is removed

c. The "Point of inflammability" – the temperature at which an inflammable mixture of vapor and air will burst into flame, without the presence of fire in the vicinity. The sensitivity of the inflammable liquid is determined in relation to its flash point.

3. Electrical fire – any fire in which electricity is actively or passively involved.

4. Gas fire – this category includes the entire family of inflammable gases, such as hydrogen, acetylene, etc. Inflammable gases, in certain mixtures, are likely to cause the outbreak of fire.

5. Light metal fire – this category includes magnesium, lithium and aluminum, as well as compounds of these metals.