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Materials That Set Themselves on Fire - Investigating Spontaneous Combustion

Sponsored by Exponent

Accidental fires happen in every industry and every setting. They can be the most destructive and therefore the most difficult type of loss to investigate, because the fire has often destroyed the evidence necessary to conclusively determine the cause. The average person is very familiar with piloted ignition as a fire cause (lit match plus gasoline equals fire), but there is another lesser known fire cause to consider in many situations: spontaneous combustion. Spontaneous combustion involves a material generating and accumulating enough heat internally that it eventually ignites itself without the application of an outside ignition source. This presentation introduces the concepts underlying spontaneous combustion, such as self-heating, exothermic reactions, and thermal runaway. Spontaneous combustion is an often overlooked and poorly understood pathway to ignition for an accidental fire. The session will cover multiple materials such as residential laundry, hazardous waste, and industrial chemicals to give the attendees the understanding necessary to ask the right questions in fire, explosion, and reactive chemical incident investigations.

Dr. Delmar "Trey" Morrison, III, Ph.D., P.E., CCPSC, FAIChE, CFEI | Principal Engineer | Exponent
Dr. Sean J. Dee, Ph.D., P.E., CFEI | Managing Engineer | Exponent

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