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Kill It With Fire / Real Life

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Kill It with Fire in real life.

  • Long before there was any scientific understanding of germs and other microbes, humans had learned that fire made rotting corpses and things that had been in contact with sick people and animals harmless. If cleaning infectious things with water didn't work, fire would do the job as a last resort, which makes fire the ultimate form of purification in cultures all over the world.
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  • Cooking, another reason for the symbolism of fire as purification: Kill parasites with fire. Suffer not the tapeworms to live. Despite the lack of knowledge concerning parasite infestation, humans learned that cooking was an efficient way to sterilize food and render death from food poisoning less likely. This was a highly important evolutionary step in that, while our immune system is moderately badass at killing single-cellular organisms such as bacteria (if the bacteria does not overwhelm the body first), it is completely useless against multicellular parasites that can steal vital resources, or clog up the digestive system, or eat your organs or brain alive inside out! And before cooking, the alternative to the Paranoia Fuel of raw meat was an inefficient diet of indigestible plant cellulose that require a slow ruminant fermentation complex to manufacture any meaningful amount of proteins and essential fatty acids (e.g. cows and gorillas didn't need fire-creating intelligence, and instead of that, they evolved for microbe-filled appendixes to support their fat-less vegetarian lifestyle, although then can Ascend to Carnivorism anytime). Carnivory evolved as it made resource acquisition fast, and cooking made the resource acquisition from that even faster. The Prometheus parallels also exist in this evolutionary history; a popular theory proposes that it was cooking that allowed us to eat fatty foods with impunity and extract energy from food more efficiently, which provided enough fuel to develop our fat-ass energy-hungry brains which allowed us to think of more ways on how to kill others with fire....
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  • In the medical field, people need to be especially careful not to spread germs. There are a variety of ways to kill them. Some involve fire or at least extreme heat, and it is very effective. Here are two examples. Metal tools can be sterilized by sticking them in an open flame. Biohazard waste gets incinerated. Indeed suffer not for the pathogens to live. And while it isn't fire, the autoclave doesn't leave behind inconvenient fire residue and can be used effectively to sterilize anything that won't melt in it, and works just fine on liquids as well as solids.
  • This is the reason armies have used flamethrowers as weapons.
    • As the late George Carlin explained it:
      "And what this indicates to me, it means that at some point, some person said to himself, "Gee, I sure would like to set those people on fire over there. But I'm way too far away to get the job done. If only I had something that would throw the flame on them."
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    • Interestingly enough, the flamethrower stopped being used around the time of The Vietnam War, at least by the United States. There were two reasons given: first and foremost, the flamethrower requires an absolutely massive tank for fuel, which slows the soldier prohibitively and told the enemies "Shoot me". The wielder was actually running away with several litres of an extremely flammable liquid strapped to his back... Unless you get a flamethrower tank, which had its share of combat during WWII. Second, the flamethrower isn't really all that useful a weapon; short range and limited fuel keep it from being used at the most useful times. The reason the flamethrower was used for as long as it was (WW1/2 to Vietnam) is because it is a profoundly powerful psychological weapon. Nothing demoralizes an enemy squad as much as seeing your best friend set on fire! An indication of the extent to which flamethrowers terrified the opponents is the number of flamethrower operators registered as POW: none, or very nearly. Your likely fate being common knowledge, you had strong incentives to lie about your job if presented with the opportunity. One of the weapons that evolved to replace man-portable flamethrowers in Vietnam was a shoulder-launched incendiary rocket launcher that could propel fuel tanks much further than the old M2 could fling an arc of napalm.
    • Flamethrowers also were more useful during trench warfare as your targets were so generous to line up in a small space. Which made the fuel issue a bit less problematic. Also, because its rather large area of effect (for a handheld weapon) makes it ideal for taking out things like bunkers. Not very useful in more open combat, like in Vietnam, and utterly worthless in combat near civilians, like in Iraq, but in more entrenched situations it can still be quite useful.
    • Flamethrowers are also useful against bunkers and armored vehicles if you can get in close enough. Unlike bullets, the spray of burning fuel only needs to hit an opening and it will splash inside. Being on the receiving end of even a small splash of burning gasoline can ruin your whole day, and even if it never gets inside a bunker the smoke and flame make it almost impossible to see out through the affected area. The Flamethrower rose to prominence debut during the 1916 Battle of Verdun, wielded by former reserve fireman serving with the German Fifth Army, and soon became a renowned as a great tool for overcoming tough enemy defensive positions.
    • In the Pacific front of the 2nd World War, the US-made flamethrowers evolved to use road flares as igniters to light their fuel, with a modular, revolver-style waterproof chamber for easy loading. On top of that, logistics and training evolved so that operators could check and replace certain tank seals and one of the release valves in the field, to improve maintenance and reliability. There exist claims that some bunkers would automatically surrender upon learning that their assailants had brought along a flamethrower rather than get set alight.
    • In present-day China, they are being used to combat the invading Asian Giant Hornet. In late 2015, the Chinese military used flamethrowers to flush out Islamic terrorists out of a cave network after they attacked a mining quarry in Xinjiang and stabbed 16 miners to death.
  • Of course, the great-granddaddy of all of these flamethrowers is truly ancient — or at least medieval: "Greek fire," a chemical concoction used by the Byzantine Navy that burst into flames upon contact with air and can never be extinguished by water. The secret of its formula was so well-kept that it is lost today. The Greek Fire was so useful back in the Medieval period that many historians agree it was one of the main reasons the Byzantine empire lasted for so long. Of course, such a weapon needs a delivery system, and the Byzantines delivered: at first, they threw ceramic pots of it at the opposing forces (usually using catapults), but eventually, they invented the siphōn, a simple but highly effective pump (rather like a modern hand pump for bicycle tires or balloons, or perhaps an overlarge syringe) that would spew streams of fire at enemy vessels.
  • The Raufoss Mk 211 bullet. A specialised round developed for use with .50 BMG caliber sniper rifles, it's designed to pierce through armour, explode, and then set the target on fire.
  • For a more impersonal delivery system, there's incendiary bombs, like those used fairly heavily on Japanese cities during World War II, by the USAAF. The June 10, 1945 "Operation Meetinghouse" firebombing of Tokyo caused more deaths than the immediate effects of either of the atomic bombs dropped in that conflict.
    • The Luftwaffe firebombing of Coventry wrought so much destruction that Joseph Goebbels coined the term Coventrated to describe the ruined city and many others like it.
    • Then the Brits used the same tactic against Germany. In the later phases of the war, a first wave of bombers would drop air burst bombs that would blast away the ceramic roof tiles used in German cities and then a second wave would drop massive amounts of incendiary bombs on the exposed wooden roof beams from where the fire would reach the wooden floors and spread to the furniture in the apartments. As in Tokyo, fires were started in specific mathematical patterns that took into account wind direction and speed, which would result in a massive updraft at the center, causing a huge fire tornado and transforming the entire city into Hell. While the fire usually didn't reach the bomb shelters, large numbers of people died from suffocation as the fire consumed the entire oxygen in the air. The incineration of Hamburg and Dresden are the closest thing Germans have to a Hiroshima-trauma.
    • Incendiary (often napalm) bombing from planes was extensively used in Vietnam and later conflicts. The US military didn't give up on this trope, they just increased the range. And then there's the bizarre tale of Operation X-ray...
    • Of the 180 largest Japanese cities that were firebombed by the 21st Bomber Command, 64 were completely destroyed.
  • Today's flamethrowers are more along the lines of missile launchers that use incendiary ammunition. And then you have the MLRS version. A typical example is the Russian RPO Shmel ("Bumblebee"). This is a tube looking like an ordinary bazooka. Inside is a single-shot rocket filled with napalm, or worse, a fuel-air warhead. A rarer variant, RPO Rys ("Lynx"), is the same, but you can carry extra rockets and reload it.
  • The IRA still used flamethrowers for the psychological effect until recently.
    • Also, the Italian Army still keeps traditional flamethrowers, officially classified as an anti-tank weapon and used by Engineer Regiments as recently as the Iraq War. Somehow, the Italian troops deployed for peace enforcement missions have managed to gain and keep a reputation as 'nice guys'...
  • Inverted by Hippocrates: "What medicines do not heal, the lance will; what the lance does not heal, fire will."
  • It is actually a common practice among those who fight forest fires to start a number of monitored brush fires while also cutting down trees. The rationale? Fastest way to get rid of fuel and helps to stop/control the spread of a forest fire by starving it. That's the way nature does it (minus the "monitored" part). In fact, certain types of cone-bearing trees need fire to open the cones. Many of the worst fires were that bad because environmental groups got their science wrong and sued to stop/prohibit thinning. Area grows into a tangle of underbrush and deadfall, lightning strikes, huge zone of flamey badness ensues. The Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria, Australia in January 2009 were partially caused by this. That, and all the arson-lit fires.
    • The backfire (starting a fire here so that the encroaching fire doesn't have fuel once it gets here) was invented on the ground. A group of fire-fighters were running from a blaze and one of them realized they couldn't escape that way. He stopped and lit a fire, urging his mates to join him. They told him he was crazy and kept running. He was the only one to survive.
  • The historical Oda Nobunaga (not the demonic, made a Deal with the Devil, comic book Super Villain one that appears in many anime) had a rather disturbing fondness for this. It began with the burning of the Mt. Hiei Buddhist temples, (and the slaughter of its thousands of residents) and culminated in the Siege of Nagashima, (another warrior monk stronghold) where he forced the defenders into their entirely wooden inner fortifications, built a wall around said fortifications, then lit the building on fire. Not a single one of 20,000 people inside escaped alive.
    • This is one of the reasons why Nobunaga was betrayed by Akechi Mitsuhide: As a high-ranking General of the Oda clan and a Buddhist, the torching of the Mt. Hiei temples did not sit well with him at all. Ironically, Nobunaga's reaction was to order his page to set Honnoji on fire, then performed seppuku to deny Akechi the satisfaction of killing him.
    • Though most adaptations like to portray that trait of Nobunaga as a reason for him being the villain, it could be argued to be merely Combat Pragmatism. Do you want to risk the lives of your soldiers in storming a building full of fanatical war monks? Or maybe you'll just advance them hiding in a mostly wooden building to its logical conclusion?
  • Sadly, this is still a common form of 'jungle justice' in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, especially in the port city of Lagos, Nigeria. A person caught red-handed at theft or murder is soaked in kerosene or petrol, tires stacked around him/her, and set on flame for an absolutely horrifying execution.
  • What did Sun Tzu & the Vikings both have in common? The love of fire. It is great for hit-and-run attacks, as it will continue to cause damage (both physical & psychological) without requiring to stay in the place.
  • If something won't burn with regular fire, there's always Chlorine Trifluoride. This stuff is so horribly reactive that it can light ashes on fire.
    • To quote In The Pipeline "The compound is also a stronger oxidizing agent than oxygen itself, which also puts it into rare territory. That means that it can potentially go on to “burn” things that you would normally consider already burnt to hell and gone, and a practical consequence of that is that it’ll start roaring reactions with things like bricks and asbestos tile." One propulsion engineer who'd dealt with it said that the best equipment for working with this stuff was "a good pair of running shoes."
  • Contrary to popular belief, witches weren't burned in England (or the Colonies, which mostly followed English practice). In Continental Europe, witchcraft was tried as heresy, for which the penalty was burning: but the pragmatic English tried witches for whatever they were supposed to have done with their magic, from murder down to theft and destruction of property, and sentenced them accordingly as the English sentence the common man. So while many witches were hanged, there were also many cases of convicted witches simply getting a fine or just a stern warning. Also contrary to popular belief, this was also the practice in Europe at large. The Spanish Inquisition, for example, was quick to pronounce 'Witchcraft' as 'Insanity' and refused to even consider charges of it. However, many local courts in Spain brought people up on charges of various counts of witchcraft on their own volition, though burning was again only reserved for the most serious of cases. Yet another contrariety to public belief, witches weren't persecuted in Western Europe before the Reformation. The Roman Catholic Church denied the existence of witchcraft and was quick to condemn those accusing others of the practise; as humorously noted by this Scandinavia and the World comic, for much of the Middle Ages, the accuser of witchcraft was more likely to end up executed as a heretic (as belief in witchcraft was contrary to Church doctrine and therefore heresy) than the accused.
  • During much of English history, there were only two crimes punishable by burning: heresy and treason. Moreover, treason was not always punished by burning, as that crime was punished in different ways depending on the offender's status and gender. Nobles of either sex were beheaded, while commoner men were hanged, drawn and quartered (a rather gruesome form of Cruel and Unusual Death). Only commoner women convicted of treason were burned at the stake, essentially as a public-decency measure: hanging, drawing, and quartering often involved stripping the condemned of his clothes (which was considered indecent if applied to a woman) and always included emasculation (which was impossible for a woman). Treason came in two flavors: High Treason (treason against the state, including most of what we normally think of as treason, plus sundries such as counterfeiting the King's seal or NTR-ing the King's heir) and Petty Treason (murder of someone with lawful authority over you, most commonly murder of a man by his wife).
    • Ironically the burning of people for religious crimes was chosen (at least by some, particularly in the Catholic Church) because it was considered the most merciful option in the case of unrepentant individuals. The reasoning being that if you decapitated a person their soul would go straight to hell, but being burnt alive, the victim would have a chance to repent their sins before a priest (who would be standing nearby) and accept God, giving them at least a chance of salvation. Throughout history, people do seemingly brutal things for (what they see as) very good reasons.
  • During the Chilean dictatorship led by Augusto Pinochet, photographer Rodrigo Rojas Denegri and college student Carmen Gloria Quintana were set on fire by the military in the middle of the protests of 1986. Rojas died due to his injuries a few days later, Quintana barely survived but was badly disfigured.
  • This was once actually a medical practice. As late as The American Civil War it was, field hospitals regularly cauterized amputated limbs with a hot iron. And no anesthetic beyond whisky and possibly opium. Soldiers often feared hospitals more than death, quite naturally. It did significantly reduce the chance of dying from an infection, but many soldiers didn't care.
    • Around this time the syringe and first epidermal and then intravenous injections were invented, and Army surgeons immediately turned to injecting the wounded with morphine (also purified from opium nearly in the same period). It did its job relatively well as a painkiller, but the lack of understanding in aseptics and proper dosages lead to the explosion of sepsis and opiate addictions.
  • Quelea are a type of small bird native to sub-Saharan Africa. They are one of, if not the most numerous species of birds in the world. Flocks number in the thousands and are capable of completely stripping grain fields in a matter of hours. How do farmers deal with the problem? They find the trees the birds nest in, wait until nightfall, and use dynamite and gasoline. Boom!
  • Interestingly, in Egypt, people really did use mummies for kindling, since when there were thousands upon thousands of mummies, they made for a ready source of fuel. Their historical value wasn't considered at the time. Could be a small amount of Fridge Horror there.
  • A fever is essentially your body trying to do this: kill off invasive microbes by creating an environment too hot for them to survive in.
    • Some kinds of Japanese honeybees use this tactic against the Asian Giant Hornet that can't be killed through normal stinging means, due to it being fast enough to kill a bee before getting stung. The hornet can't survive said temperature, however, but the bees can, so this tactic is actually a lot more effective and costs the lives of very few bees.
  • How do Eucalyptus trees get rid of other plants that grow around them and steal the precious water in the desert ground? By emitting vapour of the highly flammable Eucalyptus oil while having very flame resistant wood and their leaves high above the ground. Once the vapour ignites, it burns all the small grasses and shrubs while only slightly singing the bark of the trees. Unfortunately, it also has the side effect of causing the trees to explode when struck by lightning.
  • Rhystysma Acerinum, known commonly as Maple Tar Spot is a fungus that looks like black spots on infected tree leaves. Because it spreads on early spring through leaves infected on the previous year, the recommended cure is to gather all infected dead leaves in the fall and burn them.
  • This is the final step in any very secure hard disk disposal method. Government secrets and such might be recovered from a drive that is wiped, repeatedly overwritten, and physically broken or drilled through. It probably won't be recovered from the completely chaotic lump of ash and metal left after going through the incinerator.
    • Also a countermeasure against tampering in highly secure safes and intelligence packages. Unless it's disabled before the package is opened, boom. Sure, you can kill the courier or crack open the safe, but anything inside (and possibly anything in the near vicinity) is going to be on fire once the pyrotechnic charge inside goes off.
  • In February 2015, a captured Jordanian pilot was burned alive in an iron cage by ISIS.
  • This trope is good against toxic waste (against any organic material, especially the annoying dioxine and its PCB ilk). Unfortunately, only slightly effective against heavy metals and zero against radioactive waste (the best you might achieve is turn the stuff into less soluble compounds). One can and does treat "normal" waste this way too, but that probably isn't the best method from an environmental perspective—although that can be highly situation-dependent, especially when you're dealing with the trash of a large and densely-populated urban area, where the pollution from just burning your trash somewhere in or near the city is probably less than what you would generate transporting the trash to somewhere it can be buried. New York City has been grappling with this problem for decades, as the nearby landfills in the city (in Queens and Staten Island) are closed for being beyond capacity, and the ones near the city (largely in New Jersey) are also full or close to full, leaving New York with the options of shipping its trash far away (like "there's NYC trash in landfills in Ohio and South Carolina" far away) or burning it. NIMBY issues with incinerators have kept the city from adopting that option despite its probably being a cheaper and more environmentally-friendly option than shipping the garbage to Ohio, at least.
  • The preferred way to kill some pests, such as ticks and bedbugs, which would be difficult to crush by force.
  • To prevent contamination of placesnote  thought to be likely to harbor life by bacteria that may have survived the trip from Earthnote , one of NASA's way to dispose of probes that have ended their missions is to have them being deorbited in a planet's atmosphere where they'll burn up as Galileo and Cassini can testify.
  • This was often the case with lynchings, which, contrary to popular believe weren't all hangings but often far more horrible things such as mutilation and burning alive all for the entertainment of the mob.
  • In the first few years of World War 1, German Zepplin Bombers were nigh invulnerable, as they could No-Sell basically everything the British could throw at them until the invention of incendiary bullets could set off the hydrogen in the balloon.
  • There are certain birds in Australia who intentionally spread wildfires to flush out their prey. They do this by grabbing something that's burning and then use it to set the targeted area on fire.
  • The name of this trope may as well have been the motto of the WWII British Petroleum Warfare Department, with "it" in this instance being invading Germans. The ways in which they planned to go about doing so were many and varied, from flamethrowers both portable and vehicular to flame traps and flame fougasses to repeated attempts to set the sea on fire.
  • During the medieval period in India, particularly in the Rajput kingdoms of the northwest, Rajput women would commit mass self-immolation when facing certain defeat during a war, a practice known as jauhar, to avoid capture, enslavement, and rape by foreign invaders. Simultaneously or thereafter, the men would ritually march to the battlefield for a last stand, known as saka. The most famous incident of jauhar took place in 1303 by the women of Chittorgarh Fort in Rajasthan, when they were faced with the invading army of Alauddin Khalji of the Delhi Sultanate.


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