A Quote About Fire Or Something
August 8, 2013 9:48 AM   Subscribe

What does it feel like to walk across a thick carpet of cooled ash, like after a forest fire or a house fire? I'm writing a book and I didn't think about the sensation until right now, and I'm quite clueless. Thank you!
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would look for descriptions from the Apollo astronauts about how they described walking on the moon. That might be a close analogue.
posted by DWRoelands at 9:50 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

And don't forget the odor. Totally different between house and forest. It does have a nice crunch to it, just so you know.
posted by ptm at 9:53 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've never walked around after a forest fire, but from my woodburning stove I can tell you that wood ash is very lightweight and fluffy. It's also an excellent insulator, so if it contacts your skin it doesn't feel warm or cold; it feels like your body temperature. So, I imagine it would be like shuffling through a strangely warm snowdrift. Unless it rains, in which case it would be grimy. Also, a house fire would have a lot of stuff in it that wasn't wood ash, i.e. plaster, nails, junk.
posted by jon1270 at 9:56 AM on August 8, 2013 [6 favorites]

Also, the smokey smell lingers with you. You stink like a clambake afterwards.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:58 AM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

Ash insulates, so there will be a baked layer of ground below that could be very hot, or there may still be small fires and embers smoldering.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:19 AM on August 8, 2013

I have walked through the remnants of large, wood-only bonfires, and the ash is quite fluffy and will cloud up around you if you walk too fast through it. There were chunks of charcoal in it.

House fire ash may be quite different, as there's so much non-wood stuff in a house. It's going to smell different and feel different and have different kinds of debris remaining. And based on a house fire from a few years ago that happened near us - it was a wooden house - the smell is quite different - burned wood overlaid with really acrid and unpleasant chemical smell, probably from burnt plastics and other non-bio materials.
posted by rtha at 10:31 AM on August 8, 2013

There is a section of Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (part of the Hunger Games trilogy) that describes a character walking around a town that has been recently burned. It's fairly early in the book, as I recall.
posted by athenasbanquet at 10:34 AM on August 8, 2013

I picked through the ruins of our one-room cabin after a forest fire. There was a little ash in places, but not as much as one would have expected. Where there was ash, it pressed together very readily and stayed pressed -- no spring to it at all. You left deep and very detailed footprints. This was in the mountains of Colorado, in a not-particularly-dense forest. Most of the trees, and all of the wood and plastic seemed to have simply vanished. In places the roots had burned out below the ground, leaving convoluted tunnels behind.
posted by sleevener at 10:39 AM on August 8, 2013 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I was camping a couple of weeks ago, and we walked through an area that had burned. The ash was powder, and that's what it felt like when you walked on it--so much dust kicking up, the fine dust motes compressing under your feet. There was a feeling that if you compressed it hard enough it would form into something solid.

Not sure how helpful that is.
posted by Kafkaesque at 11:19 AM on August 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

I do some firefighting. I find that ash tends not to accumulate like you think. The lightest of it blows away, or gets soaked when the fire is extinguished. You're left with exposed ground, and burned grass, or furniture, or belongings, or whatever was on scene. Everything is pretty undistinguishable and uniformly colored by fire, until you start picking through. Once you dig, you can find bright green grass or unburned paper even a centimeter or two down if it was a cool fire... or soil hot enough to smoke and reignite an inch down if it was a warm enough burn, even after a couple thousands gallons of water have been dumped on it.

Surfaces insulate. It doesn't always work like you think it might.

The smell though. Fire stinks. Comparing a house fire to a grass fire is a non starter, they're much different beasts. Neither is anything like a wood stove or a campfire though.
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:29 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: House fire ash/remains are nasty. Lots of plastics & synthetics that are partially burned & melted. Lots of crunchy, gritty stuff and it stinks like rotting ham and dirty water. Burn a plastic bag outside - you'll see what I mean. Also, you trip and stumble a lot from stuff that didn't burn completely. There's a lot of "screek" and "crunch" from stuff like nails or porcelain electrical insulators rubbing against other stuff.
posted by toodleydoodley at 1:08 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd equate walking through thick ashes with walking over a thick layer of a powder, like flour. But toodleydoodley makes a good point, whether house- or forest-fire, there wouldn't just be ashes in the mix.
posted by Rash at 2:13 PM on August 8, 2013

It might be possible to find accounts from the aftermath of the Oakland hills firestorm of 1991. A few sample images.
posted by Lexica at 7:16 PM on August 9, 2013

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