The Biology of Fire

What is the color of life?

Green. Certainly, most observers would agree.

Yet when one considers what the green represents, one might not remain so certain. Green is the color of photosynthesis. It is therefore the color of the conversion of light energy to chemical potential energy—stored energy.

Fire Poppy

Fire Poppy: only appears immediately after a fire.

Isn’t life better seen as the active changes in things, rather than the potential for those things to change? What life would there be if nothing ever actually changed?

Life itself is in the consumption of the potential—the combustion of the products of photosynthesis. The actual life is in the burning, that is, the respiration.

A fire seems alive. It respires just as we do, needing the same oxygen and exhaling the same carbon dioxide. it is that same phenomenon—combustion, in the form of cellular respiration, that gives us life as aerobic creatures.

Not to take anything away from water or carbon, which to some extent all life seems to require; it’s specifically combustion that gives us life. Of course fire is a universal phenomenon of which combustion is but one example. Ultimately, it is fire that gives us the building blocks of life—elements such as oxygen and carbon; but for now let us stick with combustion.

Spontaneous combustion: It happens all the time.

Spontaneous combustion: It happens all the time.

The food that we consume is used to feed the internal combustion engine within us, just as a campfire consumes wood; just as a car’s internal combustion engine consumes petroleum. Like the life that we know, the fire grows as it consumes, and as it grows, it travels. Not only does an individual fire grow; some even bear children: they spit out fire children that rise on the parents’ convective currents and fly outward to begin lives of their own.

Perhaps you have seen a fire sleep, mimicking the stars in the sky with its constellations of red coals. Or maybe you’ve watched the mesmerizing dance of a fire. Maybe you listened to its crackling song while it danced. Was it a song, or was that the sound of its infernal molars crushing its food? Did you hear it breathe? It breathes in and it breathes out.

Have you ever suffocated a fire? Funny how that can seem a little like a killing.