Analysis of the Impact Theory
(continued from previous page)
points out that during the course of the fire, buildings would
suddenly burst into flame. Fire would first begin eating away at
the rear of these structures; then the fronts would explode
without warning. He argues that this was caused by sparks and
burning debris falling on buildings and igniting the cometary
gases inside. On the other hand, one contemporary writer
suggested that this was caused by burning brands falling through
the skylights of buildings, setting fire to their contents.
Again, fire science indicates the more likely cause -- heat
radiation. When a fire is burning in a portion of a building,
all materials and surfaces that face the fire are heated by
radiant heat. When the temperature of these surfaces reaches the
ignition point of the material itself, it will burst into flame.
Similarly, in large fires it is not uncommon for the radiant
heat of a burning building to ignite adjacent buildings. Surely
it was heat radiation and not cometary gases that caused these
sudden eruptions of flame.
Marshal Williams indicated at the inquiry that initially he felt
that his men could stop the fire's progress just a few blocks
from the O'Leary barn -- until St. Paul's Church, several blocks
to the north, caught fire. Waskin contends that "what
probably happened was that chunks of frozen gases broke away
from the main body of Biela II and were heated to their gaseous
states as they plunged through the atmosphere, fueling existing
fires or igniting new ones."