Does Sunshine Extinguish Fire?


I READ Mr. Tomlinson's paper (NATURE, vol. xvi. p. 361) near the time of its delivery, and was struck with the inconclusive character of his experiments. What he attempted to obtain was the condition of combustion in sunshine and combustion in darkness, Cœteris paribus. But he left the Cœteris paribus entirely out of the experiment, and actually used a dark cubbard (I believe this is good spelling etymologically and phonetically), into which there was no free influx of atmospheric air. Naturally his candles burnt with inferior combustion there. I have for years together burnt Newcastle coal, and no other; and for years together burnt South Staffordshire coal, and no other; and I say that sunshine puts out a sea-coal fire and not a S.S. fire. The reason of this is, I apprehend, not far to seek. In the Midlands it is the practice to keep a fire alive by a raker, or gathercoal. It would be quite useless to attempt to do this with a sea-coal fire, which goes out in a short time unless the cakes of coal be broken up; in a word, one has to watch a sea-coal fire; and it must be in every Londoner's experience, that such a fire is apt to elude one at the last faint gleam from over reckless poking. Now, if the sun is shining on the coal, that last faint gleam is invisible, and the fire goes out as a matter of course. Sunshine puts out a sea-coal fire by insidiously eclipsing the warning glimmer of its expiring embers. This, at least, is a vera causa. A priori I should say that combustion would be less rapid in. air rarefied by sunlight than in air deprived of it; but I do not believe sunshine extinguishes a coal fire in any other way than that I have described.

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INGLEBY, C. Does Sunshine Extinguish Fire?. Nature 16, 477 (1877).

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