California Beaches

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Beach Bonfires

Fire tetrahedron

Red
Just visible: 980 F
Dull: 1,300 F
Cherry, dull: 1,500 F
Cherry, full: 1,700 F
Cherry, clear: 1,800 F
Orange
Deep: (2,000 F
Clear: 2,200 F
White
Whitish: 2,400 F
Bright: 2,600 F
Dazzling: 2,700 F

If you gain a sense of excitement, wonderment or enjoyment from a bonfire at the beach or camping spot, you'll be glad to know that you are not alone. Bonfires have been used in a controlled manner for cooking, celebrations, ceremonies and entertainment possibly as long as 400,000 years. Evidence of cooked food dates about 1.9 million years ago, although fire was probably not used in a controlled fashion until a couple hundred thousand years ago.

Bonfire origins: The modern day (circa 15th century) use of the word bonfire probably came from banefire or bone-fire, referring to bones of slaughtered animals burned in Gaelic traditions to celebrate the end of summer.

While we Californians take our bonfires mostly without the bones, using a stick and placing a processed meat substance (hot dog) on it, the ritual is time-honored.

Californians fire celebrations mostly surround beaches and camping, but there are a few bonfire events that celebrate a school's homecoming season and sports, and in nearby Nevada, the annual Burning Man event held during the Labor Day week, celebrates art and culture with the burning of a huge effigy, a stick figure representing a man.

Light my fire: Fire tetrahedron or A-Frame (we called in in Campfire Girls) involves having a flammable and or a combustible material such as paper or wood, in combination with an oxidizer such as oxygen gas or another oxygen-rich compound, exposed to a source of heat or ambient temperature above the flash point for the fuel/oxidizer mix. The rate of rapid oxidation must be hot enough to produce a chain reaction called the fire tetrahedron. Scouting teaches kids how to build successful campfires using kindling and bigger pieces of wood to sustain the fire.

Fires are practical: They generate heat and light so you can stay warm and see, they cook food, and in the forests they keep nocturnal predators at bay.

When did fire begin? During the Middle Ordovician period, 470 million years ago, oxygen began to accumulate in the atmosphere as land plants grew and expanded on the earth's surface. When the concentration of oxygen rose above 13%, wildfires became possible. The Late Silurian fossil records of 420 million years ago yield evidence of fire.

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