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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 heating.

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.

For more information, contact:
Fire Findings L.L.C.
2026 Plaza Dr.
PO Box 8637
Benton Harbor, MI 49023
Voice: (269) 925-2200
Fax: (269) 925-2204
E-Mail: firefind@firefindings.com

 
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