Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Is Fire Matter?
Name: Michelle
Status: student
Age: 9
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 1999-2001

Is FIRE matter? Why?

Fire is a chemical reaction. Actually, it consists of a lot of chemical reactions going on at the same time, in which the molecules of some fuel (wax, wood, paper, oil, whatever) are broken down into smaller fragments by heat, and then the small fragments combine with oxygen to make water, carbon dioxide, ash, and "partial oxidation products" (when the fuel molecules aren't broken down into the smallest pieces possible). These reactions release heat, which is why fire is hot and makes light.

Richard E. Barrans Jr., Ph.D.
Assistant Director
PG Research Foundation, Darien, Illinois

As wood burns, it puts out gases which are lighter than air, sort of like what is in your ballons that float up. These gases are flamable, and burn. As they burn, while moving away from the wood, they give off light. So a fire is made out of matter, but it is like a hot gas. You could wave your hand thru this gas, just like though air, but of course you had better not, you'd get burned!!!

Steve Ross


Matter is anything that occupies space and has mass. Now, of course, we must ask, what parts of "fire" meet those standards?

In the ordinary sense of the word, when something "burns," the atoms in the burning substance are combining with oxygen to form a variety different substances. In addition to the heat (a form of energy) released when things burn, the temperature of the fire is often high enough to cause some of those substances to emit light -- another form of energy.

If you could catch and collect all the new substances formed in the burning process, you would discover that they do, indeed, have mass. Therefore they meet the standard mentioned in my first sentence above. Even the light produced has a mass equivalent. So it, too, meets the mass standard.

Anything that has mass will occupy space. So it looks like fire is matter even though it doesn't seem to weigh very much at all.


Michelle -

At one time - 2000 years ago - people though fire was an element. It's not.

The kind of fire that we usually think of (like a match burning) is heat produced by a chemical reaction. Oxygen is combining with fuel... made mostly of carbon and hydrogen. It creates carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and H2O... water. Yep, fire makes water.

The heat that comes from the fire is energy released by the chemical reaction.

Perhaps the real answer to you question is that fire is heat energy.

Hope that helps.

Larry Krengel

Click here to return to the General Topics Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory