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Video of a fire

The fire (of equivalent medium high German viur , althochdeutsch Fiur ) denotes the flame formation in the combustion with release of heat and light . A fuel and an oxidizing agent , such as oxygen from the air, are prerequisites for the development and sustaining of a fire . In addition, the fuel must at least reach the ignition temperature .

The creation of fire is one of the cultural techniques . The use and increasing mastery of fire was an important factor in the incarnation and has been a part of all civilizations at least since the Upper Paleolithic .

Chemical-physical background

Combustion triangle

Chemically speaking, fire is an oxidation reaction with the appearance of a flame. This is an exothermic reaction , which means that reactions occurring with the appearance of fire release more energy in the form of heat to the environment than is required for ignition . Fire is hot because converting the weak single bond in the oxygen molecule, O 2 , into the stronger bonds in the combustion products ( carbon dioxide and water) releases energy (418 kJ per 32 g O 2 ); the binding energies in the fuel only play a subordinate role.

A flammable material , an oxidizer and ignition energy (heat, mechanical sparks, electricity) are generally required to ignite or maintain a fire . This relationship can be clearly shown in a combustion triangle. If there is a lack of one of the three components, the fire goes out. This can be used to fight fires.

In the combustion of organic materials, for example, hydrocarbons with the oxidizing agent oxygen from the air at a complete combustion to carbon dioxide and water reacted. Partial burns are also possible, with carbon monoxide and other only partially oxidized substances being formed and non-oxidized substances such as soot remaining. In some cases, however, the oxidizing agent can also already be added to the fuel, for example in the form of saltpetre .

Since the resulting combustion gases have a lower density than the surrounding air due to their high temperature , they rise upwards through natural convection in a freely burning flame ( chimney effect ). The resulting negative pressure sucks in fresh air from below and from the side. The oxygen contained in it maintains further combustion. In extremely large fires so the resulting draft may hurricane strength achieve - is then called a firestorm .

Since the density differences do not cause convection in weightlessness , the supply of new oxygen is disrupted and only possible through diffusion , which is why, for example, a candle burning in a spaceship only forms a relatively weak and approximately spherical flame.

If natural convection is not sufficient for the desired purpose, both the air supply and the removal of the combustion gases can also take place artificially in technical applications, for example with the help of fans (see also induced draft ).

The light of fire is a physical phenomenon. Electrons of the heated particles briefly attain a higher energy level and after a short time fall back to their original energy level with the release ( spontaneous emission ) of energy in the form of a light quantum ( photon ). Not every such emission is visible to the human eye; infrared radiation is also produced (see flame color ).

Combustion theory deals with the chemical and physical processes in a fire .

Word origin

The modern German word fire can be - over medium high German viur , Old High German Fiur and West Germanic fewur (or * FUIR ) - traced back to the meaning identical Indo peu̯ōr , PUR , genitive Pune (see also ancient Greek πῦρ / pyr , Armenian hur , Hittite pahhur , gothic fon and Umbrian pir ).

Prehistoric fire use

The taming of wildfires (for example from lightning strikes or earth fires ) and later the skill of starting fires were important steps in the incarnation . With an increase in the carnivorous diet, which is documented for Homo habilis , and even more so for Homo rudolfensis, with changes to the teeth and brain, the utilization of this food by cooking was much more efficient. Heating - by roasting over an open fire or cooking in hot springs - facilitates the enzymatic digestion of the food and thus relieves the digestive tract . In addition, food could be preserved longer by smoking (which could be learned from animal corpses after a bush fire or other burnt meat). The heating also reduced the exposure of the food to pathogenic parasites , bacteria and viruses .

Fire offered warmth, light and protection from predators and insects at the same time. Fire made it possible to harden wood and stone and later (in the Neolithic ) from clay or loam to make ceramics and (even later) to melt ores.

Recently, research has also been conducted into the contribution that the necessity of guarding fireplaces and keeping fire must have made to the development of human communication - a previously neglected aspect of the incarnation.

Palaeolithic and Mesolithic

Very early archaeological evidence of fire use by australopithecines (4–1.5 million years ago) as well as by Homo habilis (2.5–2 million years ago) is still controversial today. Prominent examples of such dubious evidence are Koobi Fora on Lake Turkana (Kenya), Swartkrans (South Africa), Yuanmou (China), Gongwangling site (China; see Lantian-Mensch ) and Pandalja 1 near Pula (Croatia). The evidence of fireplaces in Swartkrans consist in the degree of heating of the sediment, as electron spin resonance proves that the burning temperature in the fireplace was higher than in a natural grass fire. Another controversial site is in Chesowanja , Kenya , near Lake Baringo . Animal bones and Oldowan tools were found there, along with over fifty burnt chunks of clay and a fireplace-like arrangement of stones .

The oldest secured fireplaces, which were undoubtedly created by humans ( Homo erectus ), come from the Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa and are around a million years old. Burned bone fragments and plant remains deep inside the cave serve as evidence. A fireplace with burned human food remains is also available from Gesher Benot Ya'aqov in northern Israel , which is connected to tools from Homo erectus and is about 790,000 years old. In addition to small-sized baked stone artefacts : their spatial distribution suggests fireplaces, also burned remains of edible plants were found here Wild barley ( Hordeum spontaneum ) and wood Wild Olive trees ( Olea europaea subsp. Oleaster ) and Virginia creeper vines (Vitis sylvestris). Many researchers assume that the colonization of East Asia by Homo erectus and northern Alpine Europe by Homo heidelbergensis (synonymous for the late Homo erectus in Europe) about 600,000 years ago was only possible with the help of fire. However, some evidence previously cited for Homo erectus has now been refuted, such as in the Zhoukoudian cave (China), where the lamination of the sedimentary layers with silts , organic particles and charcoal instead proves their natural entry.

The oldest secure evidence in Europe is around 400,000 year old hearths from the English Beeches Pit , Terra Amata near Nice and Vértesszőlős in Hungary. The sites are dated in Middle Pleistocene interglacials , which are equated with the marine OIS 9, 11 or 13, which could mean that the use of fire did not take place especially in pronounced cold periods. In the same time horizon, fireplaces are to be set up in the Qesem Cave in Israel, as well as a 350,000 year old finding from the Tabun Cave .

On the other hand, the findings from the Thuringian site of Bilzingsleben are controversial , where “charcoal fire ” and heated travertine chunks were described as evidence of a living floor . Other researchers assume that wood was relocated and charred by forest fires. Manganese precipitates can also simulate the existence of fireplaces due to the black coloring of rocks such as travertine . The use of fire in Schöningen in Lower Saxony is also the subject of controversy . A spruce stick in the vicinity of the Schöningen spears known as a “roasting spit” was possibly deliberately hardened in the fire, but other authors doubt the controlled handling of fire at this 300,000 year old site. The presumed fire hardening of wood is also questioned for the lance tip from Clacton-on-Sea, which is about the same age, and the Eemzeit lance from Lehringen . Examples from the time horizon of the "classic" Neanderthals of the Würm Ice Age are available from Grotto XVI , the Abric Romaní , the Roc de Marsal and from Italy.

However, since there are also campsites from these early epochs where no evidence of fire pits was found, it is unclear whether fire was lit habitually or only sporadically at that time.

Fire hardening has dominated Homo sapiens for 72,000 years in stone tools made of chert such as flint , it has been occurring for 164,000 years (location Pinnacle Point in South Africa) ( tempering of flint ). The oldest pyrite tuber as part of a stone-age shock lighter was of a burnt layer of the Württemberg Vogelherd Cave described the archaeological culture of the typical Aurignacian is assigned and to approx. Is dated 32,000 years. This tuber, whose class affiliation has not been proven beyond doubt due to the imprecise excavation in 1931, would be by far the oldest evidence of "fire-striking" and thus of a lighter . In addition to a pyrite or marcasite bulb, this also includes a blowstone (usually flint) and a piece of tinder fungus ( Fomes fomentarius ) or other tree sponge (for example birch sponge ). For the majority of archaeological finds, however, it is unclear whether they are pyrite or marcasite , so the neutral term pyrites should be used. There are other Paleolithic evidence of chipped sulfur pebbles from Laussel (layer assignment unclear, Solutréen ?) And from the Belgian Chaleux ( Magdalenian ). Such “fire strike sets” were found in large numbers in the Mesolithic and more recent prehistory. Well-dated evidence from the early Mesolithic is available from the English site of Star Carr , where both Fomes fomentarius and pieces of marcasite were found. The evidence could also be proven by residues (residues) of pyrite on blowstones, as in the late mesolithic sites Henauhof -Nord near Bad Buchau and on the Ullafelsen in the Fotschertal .

Use from conflagration

Fires were believed to have been used to hunt fleeing game. However, there is no archaeological evidence for this. However, the Stone Age natives of North America and Australia used fire for non-agricultural land use before the influence of Europeans. Henry T. Lewis listed about seventy different reasons for being set on fire by Indians. Driven hunts for larger game do not seem to benefit from setting fire, on the other hand numerous small animals (mainly by women) can be collected after a wildfire. Fire was later (probably from the Neolithic ) used specifically for clearing purposes in order to create agricultural areas.

Recent history

Making fire with fire steel, flint and tinder

In the course of Neolithization the fire formed the basis of important cultural techniques, such as burning ceramic ( pottery ) and the metal melt (since the Chalcolithic period ). The standard method of the Neolithic is the "pebbles lighter", as can be proven by various finds of the linear ceramic culture . “Marcasite lighters” are also proven during the Bronze Age .

From the Iron Age onwards, the fire steel gradually replaced the pebbles. In the cemetery of decision was in the hill 78/2 a Roteisenstein found and a flint blade, which is interpreted as lighter in this combination.

Awl-shaped fire steels were found on the Nydam ship , among other places . In northern Germany, ship-shaped quartzite objects are known during the Iron Age , which, like flint, are used to produce sparks.

The production of sparks in connection with iron and flint remains the most widespread type of fire-making in Europe until modern times . This principle is also used in the flintlock principle of shotguns .

Start a fire

Vanuatu residents fire plowing
"Cheer up" with fanned out branch chips

If a fire ignites be, shall, in addition to the presence of fuel and oxygen to be ensured that there is enough oxygen gets to the fuel and can deduct the combustion products ( chimney effect). For ignition, an initial spark is necessary to reach the ignition temperature , for which pre-industrial peoples knew different methods:

The most technically demanding method of starting a fire is based on generating heat through friction . The simplest form is to rub two sticks together. Further developments are fire plowing, fire sawing and fire drilling . This creates glowing wood dust, which can then be poured onto a tinder nest to ignite a flame.
To generate sparks , a spark striker such as flint is struck against a spark dispenser such as pyrite , marcasite or fire steel . The spark then falls on a tinder like fire sponge . The Birkenporling is also suitable . Other fungi such as Keller cloth , Netzstieliger bolete and puffballs ( Lycoperdon bovista ), must first "nitrided", that is, in saltpetre are soaked. Nitrided cattail cotton is common also as a highly flammable material. A set of spark beater , spark dispenser and tinder is called a blow lighter .
Air compression
This process is used in back India with the fire pump .
Concentration of light
With the help of a burning glass ( magnifying glass ) or a concave mirror , sunlight can be focused on a point so that the ignition temperature of z. B. wood or paper is achieved.

Skilled people can start a fire in about a minute using such methods; see also survival . Nowadays, fires are usually kindled with a lighter or matches . If necessary, a fidibus is used to ignite inaccessible areas.

Early science concepts

In ancient Greece, the element fire was assigned to the tetrahedron as one of the five Platonic solids . Fire is one of the elements of both the classical four-element teaching and the Sino-Japanese five-element teaching .

Religious meaning

Burning Man Festival
Easter bonfire on the beach of Binz on Ruegen
Fire juggler
Wood fire

The importance of fire is reflected in numerous myths , such as that of the fire-bringer Prometheus and Huschang or the phoenix bird .

The old religion of the Persian religious founder Zarathustra had a lasting effect on the local folk culture. Even today this religion lives on as Parsism or Zoroastrianism . Many Persian first names refer to fire.

The Romans worshiped Vesta , the goddess and guardian of the hearth fire, with her own cult of women (the Vestal Virgins ).

Judaism / Christianity : In the Old Testament of the Bible , fire, smoke and tremors are side effects of a theophany (apparition of God, see e.g. 2. Book of Moses, Chapter 3). According to the testimony of the Acts of the Apostles , the Holy Spirit appeared " in tongues as of fire " (cf. Acts 2 Pentecost). During Easter vigil, the Easter candle , symbol of the resurrection of Jesus Christ , is lit at the Easter fire. The custom of the Easter fire probably has pre-Christian roots. With John , Jesus calls himself the light of the world . The fire is also said to have a cleansing effect ( see also: purgatory ) . In the early modern period, for example, alleged witches were burned at the stake to cleanse their sinful souls.

In Hinduism , Agni , the fire, is the embodiment of God who appears on earth in the form of a flame. Fire plays a prominent role in worship as well as in all other religious rites: The most popular daily ceremony is the arati , where a candy light is waved in front of the altar. The fire sacrifice , yaggya (also called yajna ), was originally probably the most important sacrificial ritual in which the offerings were thrown into the sacred fire.

Even today fire plays an important role in the religious life of the Hindus: on certain occasions, especially when it comes to cleaning ceremonies such as the inauguration of apartments, shops or the like, the priest ritually lights the holy fire with prayer. In the fire offering, now also called Homa or Havan , he worships Agni. At an apartment inauguration, for example, the priest or the owner then carries the bowl with the smoldering fire through the rooms in a blessing. Especially with all Hindu sacraments, the living presence of the divine in its flame form is always necessary: ​​A Hindu couple marry by walking around the fire seven times.

In some ethnic religions there is one or more fire spirit (s). In the Finnish epic Kalevala , the robbery of the Sampo fire mill from the "Nordort" (Pohjola) plays an important role, after which the Finnish matchstick brand "Sampo" is named.


Purpose fire / utility fire

Purpose fire - as opposed to malicious fire - the intended and controlled fire that is intended for heating or burning objects or other things, such as the chimney fire, campfire , barbecue fire and Sweden fire .

Humans have long learned to control fire and still use it today, sometimes indirectly in the form of electric current. But the term fire is also used in systems operated with it , e.g. B. in lights and beacons . In technology, a technical device that is supposed to generate heat with the help of fire is called a furnace . A burner is usually used for liquid or gaseous fuels .

Harmful fire

The damaging fire - also called fire - is a destructive, mostly unintentional fire. It unintentionally burns objects and is only controllable after it has been contained. Fighting damaging fires is the primary task of fire services .

Insurance companies usually define the term fire as fire that has arisen without a designated hearth or has left it and is able to spread independently . A designated stove can be any object that is intended to generate heat ( oven , iron ) or fire. Deliberate harmful fires can arise from pyromania .

With the help of incendiary weapons (not to be confused with firearms ), fire can also be used to damage an enemy in a targeted manner.

See also


  • Adam Merschbacher: Fire protection: Practical manual for planning, execution and monitoring. Verlagsgesellschaft Rudolf Müller, 2005, ISBN 3-481-02054-6 .
  • Johan Goudsblom : Fire and Civilization . 2nd edition, Springer VS, Wiesbaden 2016, ISBN 978-3-658-06505-8 .
  • J. Warnatz, U. Maas, RW Dibble, combustion, 3rd edition, Springer, Berlin Heidelberg 2001, ISBN 3-540-42128-9 .
  • Helmut Gebelein : The element of fire in the household and family. In: Trude Ehlert (ed.): Household and family in the Middle Ages and early modern times. Sigmaringen 1991, pp. 137-151.
  • Claudia Sticher: Fire. Symbol of life and faith . Verlag Katholisches Bibelwerk, Stuttgart 2017, ISBN 978-3-460-27192-0

Web links

Commons : Fire  album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wikiquote: Fire  Quotes
Wiktionary: fire  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikisource: Fire  Sources and Full Texts

Individual evidence

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