Spontaneous Combustion Not Instantaneous. Fire Findings. Vol. 2, No.
2. Spring, 1994
Abstract: Spontaneous combustion is the cause of many fires; however,
it is also determined as the cause of fires with no scientific evidence
to support the conclusion. To understand the process of spontaneous combustion,
an investigator must know the process of spontaneous heating, which occurs
before spontaneous combustion.
Spontaneous heating is the result of a material's increase in temperature
due to oxidation. Oxidation is an exothermic reaction, a chemical process
that produces heat. Exothermic reactions are rare, because the oxidation
of most organic materials occurs slowly, so the rate of heat release is
slight. The heat produced is virtually undetectable. Temperature increases
from external sources, such as a stove or the sun, do not constitute spontaneous
Materials that are subject to spontaneous heating will not always spontaneously
combust. There are other factors that must be present for combustion to
occur. Oxygen must be present to facilitate the process of oxidation.
The heat created during spontaneous heating must be allowed to accumulate
and not dissipate into the air. A balance of these two conditions could
lead to spontaneous combustion. Another fact to remember is that spontaneous
combustion is not instantaneous. The process for spontaneous heating and
combustion can take hours, days, or even weeks.
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