Why Does Fire Change Color?


How Fire Works

  • Fire utilizes three separate components to perform a chemical process. These components, including oxygen, heat and fuel, must all be present in sufficient quantities for a fire to take place. During a fire, the molecules in these three elements undergo a chemical reaction which releases and absorbs different forms of energy. This released energy interacts with molecules in the air to form water and carbon dioxide, in a process known as oxidation. Because of the extreme heat involved in a fire, oxidation happens so fast that it creates combustion, which leads to visible flames.

Color From Fuels

  • The various colors in a fire are caused by the different types of fuels being burned, as well as by the level of heat the fire is exposed to. The black smoke from a fire is caused by carbon particles that are not oxidized, and instead escape from the fire in the form of smoke.This may happen when the temperature is relatively low, or when there is a large amount of carbon in the area. Carbon that does not escape is burned, and produces a yellow glow. This happens when the fire is at a very high temperature, or the fuel source is one that burns at a quick rate.

Colors From Chemicals

  • Fire may also change color due to minerals or chemicals present in the fuel source or in the surrounding air. Many substances are linked to specific color production when burned. For instance, fuels high in sodium will burn yellow, while those with high potassium levels burn purple or violet. Burning copper tends to give off green flames, and both stronium and lithium burn bright red. This link between various chemicals and fire is often used to design and manufacture fireworks.


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