Bauchi, Borno, Kano inferno and the chemistry of fire

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The fire outbreak across three major markets in Bauchi, Borno and Kano should give us a keen interest about the chief cause of fire and why fire breaks out. Whatever our opinions are, it’s difficult to ascertain the cause when our hypothesis is devoid of scientific elements. Therefore, reference to science will give us a hinge.

There are no available tools to employ as Fire Investigation Road Maps (FIRMs) in Nigeria. Consequently, questions such as “why the fire outbreaks?” and “how did it happen?” have remained unanswered despite the frequency of the occurrence.

Fire Investigation Road Maps are tools designed, developed and tested at real fire scenes and also during cold case fire investigation reviews to assist competent fire investigators conduct a thorough, rigorous and systematic investigation to determine the origin and cause of a fire.

FIRMs is employed to determine the cause of the fire, that being the ignition source, first combustible material to become ignited and the mechanism that brought the two together which will determine whether the fire started accidentally or deliberately.

In the absence of this tool in our federal and states fire services, the simple but effective resort to be employed is the basic fire chemistry (or Fire Triangle). Fire is a chemical reaction in which energy in the form of heat is produced. But, for fire to come into being, three components must be present. These include oxygen, fuel, heat/ignition source.

The fact that ixygen is readily available in the air (about 21%) has limited my curiosity to the fuel and heat/Ignition source in the recent fire outbreaks. Without one of these components, fire cannot exist. And, for fire to ignite, there must be an initial and continued heat source.

The whole process is a chain. The heat allows fire to spread by removing the moisture from nearby fuel, warming surrounding air, and preheating the fuel in its path. The fire can only stop when it becomes either fuel-controlled (i.e., there is no more fuel to burn) or ventilation-controlled (i.e., there is not enough oxygen to sustain the combustion).

“All fires start with ignition” (Babrauskas, 2003a).

The ignition source, which government should properly investigate in those markets, may not be unconnected with those materials we are using daily. But, it must also be acknowledged that we have those materials in our midst that possess an Auto Ignitable Temperature (AIT).

This is the temperature at which any flammable gas or vapour will ignite without the introduction of an ignition source. When carefully observed, our markets are densely situated and contain many substances that could serve as fuel such as polystyrene, polypropylene products, cushions, textiles, etc., and that the ignition source(s) are not far fetched.

These include flammable liquids like fuel, solvents, cleansing agents, adhesives, paints and other raw materials. These can all ignite or explode if used or stored improperly. The advancement in Green Chemistry has paved a way to the use of non-halogeneted hydrocarbons such as methane which is a very good fuel. All these can ignite from even just high temperature or weak ignition sources (one spark of static electricity).

Some chocolates are photo catalytic, meaning, the only need a light to react. It is worthy to note that these sort of chocolates react when sunlight is shone through them. Although not all, heat is given off by most of these chocolates during and or after the reaction.

Recall that I mentioned earlier that some materials only require a negligible amount of heat to ignite. Our markets are full of such chocolates. Lithium ion batteries used in phones, laptops, etc., are also a very good ignition source as they have high energy density. In theory, electronic circuitry in chargers are meant to prevent overcharging.

However, electronics can fail and batteries can overheat especially when there’s a rise in the temperature. It is an established fact that the hot weather (summertime) is already with us. That is noticeable in the way our body sweats frequently and the amount of heat our mobile phones are emitting.

Modern method of construction; modern homes/shops are increasingly constructed on a combustible construction materials including the timber frames, polystyrene insulation, etc. Therefore, residents should be aware of any type of combustible material present in the structure of their homes and shops. Magnifying glasses too are a very good ignition source.

It could also be resulted or caused by arsonist – the undesirable elements who mischievously sets fire to properties or the watchman, if any, that has this reckless smoking habit.


Government of the affected states should establish a body that will explore the happenings and come up with a Forensic Fire Investigation Report (FFIR) to avoid or mitigate such touching stories.

Mubarak (Muhammad) Shuaibu Musa, Hardawa, Misau local government area, Bauchi state
[email protected] com

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