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Fire Science: Ignition
Ignition is the first stage of combustion. Ignition occurs when enough energy is applied to a fuel. The energy can come from many places. For example, energy used to ignite the fuel on the tip of a match comes from friction. Friction is produced when a match is dragged across a hard surface.

Image of a matchbook with matches inside.While friction is used to ignite a match, the heat energy from a match can be used to ignite paper, candlewicks, etc. The heat from the energy in lightning can ignite fuel such as trees, grass, and houses. Photo: Courtesy of 

In the case of solid fuels such as wood, ignition is actually a two-step process. During the first step, energy such as heat causes some of the solid fuel molecules to move and break loose. These molecules are released into the air as a gas or vapor. During the second step, called pyrolysis, energy causes the gas molecules given off by the heated solid fuel to vibrate. The gas molecules then break into pieces. These gas molecules are what a person actually sees burning during a campfire, not the wood itself. This is important because how a fire spreads from the initial source of fuel to other nearby sources of fuel partly depends on how the gases move around.

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