The Extraordinary Science of Firewalking

Firewalking has never ceased to amaze people, especially those who haven’t ever seen it live before and have only watched the event from the comfort of their living room. Many cultures around the world associate the act of firewalking with the possession of faith, or of having spirits come inside you. But do you really have to be mystical or possessed to go through the fire, or is there a scientific explanation?

Preparing the firewalking event starts with burning the fire bed, the area where the people will walk. The fire can be as hot as 3,000F when it is still ablaze but when the kindling is reduced to coals, the temperature lowers drastically to around 800F to 1,000F. Some cultures would have fire ceremonies and dances, where people would dance and chant around the fire. And then, one by one, walkers pass through the fire, receiving no burn marks.

The secret to firewalking comes in several forms. First, there is the coal. Many people don’t know it, but coal actually has low thermal conductivity, meaning that the heat inside it isn’t passed off easily to the object it is in contact with. So, when you touch a coal, it may be hot, but not enough to burn you. That’s why skilled firewalkers can walk through hot and glowing coal unharmed.

Another secret to successful firewalking is in the feet. Of course, every firewalker walks barefoot on the fire bed, but the trick is to tread lightly. The coal may be a poor heat conductor, but when you press your foot down on it too hard, you might just get burned. Treading lightly lets only a small portion of your feet touch the coal, mainly the soles and the mounds of the feet. Calloused feet also come in handy for firewalking, because the thick skin protects you. Also, make sure your feet are dry, because coal can stick to your feet if they’re wet.

Not only should you tread lightly, but you should constantly be moving. If you spend too much time on the fire bed, you’ll end up with a pair of blistered feet. Move constantly, but don’t be hasty: remember, when you’re running, you apply more pressure to your feet. Running might also get some small pieces of coal trapped between your toes, which will burn your feet.

The final secret to firewalking is “mind over matter.” Many people, once they see the hot coal immediately panic and get nervous. They might end up getting flustered and might resort to running through the fire bed as fast as they can, which we know by now is a no-no. Staying calm and remembering the technique and science definitely help any firewalker.

Summing up, the secrets to firewalking are in the coal, our feet, our walk, and our mind. Firewalking can be debunked using pure physics, but it also takes a certain willpower to fight the fear. Now, you can say that you don’t have to be a mystic to walk through the fire – but still, don’t try it if you haven’t gotten the tricks learned!

Sources: 1, 2, 3