What is spontaneous combustion?

February 18, 2017 | Author: | Posted in Science

Spontaneous combustion is the ignition of a combustible material without the application of external heat or flame. The self-generated heat produced by cotton soaked in oil and confined in a poorly ventilated room sometimes becomes sufficient to ignite the cotton. Fires started by spontaneous combustion are common in coal mines, owing chiefly to the rapid oxidation of coal dust when it comes in contact with air.

Damp or improperly cured hay, especially of the legume variety, is particularly subject to self-generated heat. If a pile is large enough to afford the necessary insulation the self-generated heat will proceed to such a temperature that a small amount of air filtering into the pile will produce self-ignition. It is generally believed that the initial heat is generated by the fermentation of micro-organisms, such a bacteria, yeasts and molds, which multiply rapidly in damp hay, grain, manure and other vegetable products and which are killed by their own heat at a temperature somewhere in the neighborhood of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. The subsequent higher temperature required to ignite the substance may be the result of purely chemical processes.

Although the theories seeking to explain spontaneous combustion in damp vegetable matter are legion, very little is actually known of the exact cause of this phenomenon.

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