Firewalking | March 1987

FMBR Editorial: March, 1987


"At the First Archaeus Congress --- Dr. Eric Best conducted a fire walk on Jan. 23, 1986. Many of the attendees walked across the 10-foot-long bed of hot coals. The wind was blowing at approximately 15-20 mph, which kept the surface of the coals red hot. The surface temperature, as measured by a thermocouple mounted on the end of a broomstick, stayed at approximately 1100 degrees F. --- Elaine Holland crossed the hot coals wearing a --- 1-mil-diameter chromal aluminal thermocouple mounted on (the outside of) a fiberglass band that was attached to the arch of her right foot --- thus it was insulated from her foot by approximately 2 mm of fiberglass. --- its data strictly refer to the temperature of the fire, coals, or ash under her foot as she walked across the fire pit. --- It took Elaine four steps to cross the fire pit --- It is not possible to determine if the maximum temperature during her first step was 800 or 1400 degrees F because of an apparent burst of noise. --- The data from the third step (the second step with her right foot) is very clean (the data plot shows it to be about 1500 degrees F). --- her foot was in the fire for approximately 0.5 s during her first step and approximately 0.7 s during her second step. --- Elaine was not burned or blistered during this fire walk. --- Unfortunately, approximately 20% of the people do get blisters on the bottoms of their feet. The author has observed that there is a fairly clear relationship between the apparent 'mental state' of the fire-walker and whether or not he is burned."

-- Artifex, Feb-Mar 1986, "First Archaeus Congress Fire Walk, A Technical Report," Jack Houck, pp. 3-5.

"The extremely low heat content and poor conductivity of dehydrated wood coals, even at very high temperatures, is a widely unappreciated fact, and it is probably the dominant factor in the firewalker's failure to suffer burns. In thinking of wood coals and skin, one tends to rely on the analogy of a red-hot bar of iron burning a hapless piece of paper. This is a mistake. An analogy much closer to the firewalking case would be a small red-hot piece of paper trying to 'burn' a large cool piece of iron. The energy exchange upon contact instantly reduces the paper's temperature drastically, while raising the iron's temperature only slightly. --- thermal radiation (is also) an important factor --- there is a commonly unappreciated fact about radiating surfaces --- once one gets fairly close to such a surface (so that it approximates the effect of an 'infinite plane'), the received radiant heat does not increase with any further approach. --- The surprising result is that a foot held 1/8 inch above the coals receives no more radiant heat than does a hand placed a full foot or two above them! --- Second, the radiant heat received by the foot actually drops upon contact with the source, and drops substantially. --- This drop shows up in the telltale dark footprints left after the foot moves on. --- One is trading radiant heat for conducted heat, of course, but the important point is that the foot does not have to deal with both. --- If we include the Leidenfrost effect, which I suspect plays a relatively minor role, then we have addressed conduction, convection, specific heats, and latent heats."

-- The Skeptical Inquirer, Winter 1986, "Firewalking and Physics," Paul A. Churchland, Univ. of Ca., La Jolla.

"A more mundane explanation is a scientific phenomenon known as the Leidenfrost effect. Feet hurrying through burning embers are not burned to a crisp for the same reason that drops of water 'dance' on a hot surface. A thin, protective vapor layer forms, supplied by the evaporation of the water drop. Presumably, the sweat of the firewalker's feet provides this same margin of safety as he or she traverses the hot embers."

-- Computer Decisions, 8/13/85, "Executives Walk on the Wild Side," M. Lasden, pp 66-71.


"I don't accept the rationalizations or the theories that have been given as to how fire walking is possible -- that wood isn't a good conductor of heat, for example, or the Leidenfrost effect. The more I teach firewalking, the more humility I feel. I basically don't know how it happens. — I don't think those theories are accurate because I've experienced getting burned. If they were accurate I wouldn't have been burned and neither would anybody else. — The first time I firewalked it was a very easy experience for me. —Then after I'd been doing it about six months I got burned and that changed my whole relationship to the fire and to the firewalk. I think I had lost my reverence for the firewalk. It was at a point in my life when I thought it was easy and I was not really doing much preparation. One night a news team was filming me for TV and in the middle of the coals I started looking into the cameras and smiling and posing. And I burned my feet. I certainly gained more respect for the kind of mental preparation that one does before the firewalk, and I gained more respect for treating the fire with reverence, not just tromping across it. — I never walk across the coals until I stand in front of the coal bed and feel the energy of the fire and my own energies merging. I experience a sense of unity, a sense of oneness with the fire. Then I walk. Then I know I'm safe. I'm sure that's an altered state, and yet I feel every step and feel really in touch with my humanness, with my body."

-- Institute of Noetic Sciences' Newsletter, Winter 1985-86, "The Firewalk: Stepping Over a Belief System - An Interview with Ange Stephens", pp 12-15.


"In the absence of a definitive explanation, one thing is clear. Most of us who complete the firewalk must, in the process, grapple with our fears and confront our cultural conditioning about what is and is not humanly possible. This in itself is a profound learning experience."

-- Institute of Noetic Sciences' Newsletter, Winter 1985-86, Barbara McNeill, Editor.

March 1987

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