Smoke and fire

I have a new fire pit. The weather hasn’t been good enough to use it yet but it’ll happen. I already have a wood burning stove in the living room, a chimenea and incinerator bin in the garden and plenty of space (and landlord’s permission) for all the bonfires I could ever want.

My recycle bin contains cans and plastic. I don’t throw away cardboard any more. The trees here shed branches at a rate to delight any firebug and there are a lot of trees. Pine cones in abundance – they burn very nicely too. I don’t burn plastic because it gives off an acrid black smoke and tends to leave horrible lumps in the bottom of your fire device.

Paper for starting the fire is no problem. Junk mail has a use here.

These things save me from my natural firebug tendencies. Rather, they save the rest of the world from me.

This does not make me at all unusual. Humans have been lighting fires since humans first learned to bang rocks together. Fire and smoke have accompanied our species throughout our history.

So, why aren’t we all dead from lung cancer?

Well, New Scientist, lefty propaganda hack-rag though it currently is, has reported that humans have a gene that made us more smoke resistant than the other kinds of humans – so they couldn’t tolerate living in a cave with a fire. (thanks to @mihotep who retweeted the link on Twitter).

We still have that gene. It’s not a superpower, we can still be overcome and die of smoke inhalation when it’s intense but even in visible smoke, we can tolerate it. I can’t, offhand, think of another species that can tolerate smoke as long as we can.

Naturally, this won’t include tobacco smoke because that is magically different from all other kinds of burning plant material. That’s why people were routinely dragged unconscious from pubs in the old days and resuscitated outside, and why every workplace that allowed smoking always kept a respirator and oxygen bottle handy.

What? That didn’t happen? Well, the antismokers will no doubt soon tell you it did.

All those diseases on the rise, all blamed on smoking that’s now in decline, are more likely to be caused by fire – actually, the lack of it. There are other factors, the almost-sterile cleanliness of many modern homes, the sprays and strange chemicals people use to make them smell like a countryside they’re afraid to actually visit because the ground is made of dirt.

I suppose I can be a bit smug here. I actually live in the countryside so all I need do to get the countryside smell in the house is open the windows. The windows are all open whenever weather allows. That gets the air in the house changed. It’s an old house and there are plenty of draughts but all but three of the fireplaces are sealed and the windows and doors are new, double glazed ones. Frequent air-changes are important.

It’s not that long ago that everyone had a fireplace with a blazing fire in it. The local pub still does – even though they aren’t allowed to allow smoking in there. They do have a covered and heated smoking area at the back though.

I know, we’ve been through this before but there’s a whole generation who might never have seen a fireplace, certainly not one in actual use. These days it’s central heating, underfloor heating, invisible heating in hermetically sealed boxes. It’s nice, I can’t deny that. It means you can set the heating to come on half an hour before you get out of bed in the mornings. Nobody has to freeze while they get the fire started up. I have central heating and I do use it but in winter it’s still nice to get the wood burner fired up. Especially as the landlord is gutting and rebuilding another house he owns nearby so I have an almost endless supply of free wood.

I’ll repeat, then, for the benefit of any smoke-terrified youngsters who might happen by, why the coal/log fire was so damn good.

Apart from being a plaything, and something to stare pensively into, the fire did a really important thing. It sucked the air up the chimney really fast.

The room didn’t run out of air. New air came in through every available gap, any open doors or windows so the air in the room didn’t deplete. As a bonus, if people were smoking in there, that smoke got sucked up the chimney too.

Along with the smoke, up the chimney was the fate of anything breathed, sneezed or coughed out of anyone else in the room. It was the fate of a lot of dust and airborne bacteria and viruses and fungal spores. Now, with no chimneys and eco-sealed draught-free homes, all that crap stays in the atmosphere to be breathed in over and over again.

People don’t even open their windows now. Certainly not often enough. Condensation leads to black mould growing and that stuff will cause a lot more harm than having a few smokers in the room.

Six chimney breasts have been sealed over in this house. If I owned it I’d reopen them all. It would mean having to uncap the chimneys and have them swept and inspected to make sure they’re still okay to use and it certainly wouldn’t be cheap. Well, not the kitchen fireplace. That now has the cooker in front of it and the old chimney contains the vent for the gas hob. Also, the gas pipe comes in through there because it’s the thinnest part of the wall. It’s only about a foot thick at the back of the fireplaces.

Living out here, surrounded by woodland, with plenty of fallen branches and dead trees and a landlord with loads of old wood he’s trying to get rid of, I could heat the whole place for the cost of a box of matches. What do you do if the power goes off and your heating doesn’t work? If it happens here I light up the wood burning stove. I can even boil water on it and have a cup of tea. How about you?

I’d also have continuous airflow through the house. That would be far healthier than sealing the place and breathing the same air over and over.

Best of all, I could sit by the fire smoking my pipe again. A pipe in a sealed room with no chimney draught soon causes something akin to smog. With an active fireplace it all just disappears.

There’s one thing I’d still need the central heating for. If the place is empty in winter, an hour of heating morning and night will keep it warm enough so the pipes don’t freeze. If there’s a power cut for a few hours, it just means the timer will be a few hours out. No biggie.

All those sicknesses on the rise, now blamed on smoking, were never anything to do with smoking. They were caused by the eco-freaks’ insistence on letting no heat escape the house and insisting we can’t burn stuff because ‘the environment, man’.

The environment has coped with humans burning stuff for millennia. Sometimes the environment will decide to clear a forest with fire and produce more smoke and flame than a generation of humans. The environment doesn’t die when that happens. In fact, forests need to burn down once in a while. Otherwise they’d be full of old dead trees shading the new growth from light. A clearout is Nature’s gardening tool.

Even in the 1900s when we had factories and steam engines belching smoke everywhere and smog in the cities, the environment didn’t die. It didn’t even change very much. We really didn’t have that much effect. There was no global warming then, so pretending it’s happening now that we have reduced our emissions so much is really pretty silly.

It’s like blaming the rise in asthma on smoking: global warming is worse now that our emissions are less.

The sealed homes,. the closed fireplaces, the lack of airflow, breathing the same air over and over – there is your asthma link. Most of the other infections too. Those in charge dare not say it, since they forced you to live in what amounts to a Tupperware fridge container.

I say it and I’ll keep on saying it. Smoke and fire are part of human existence and always have been. We have been playing with fire for so long now we are dependent on it – take it away and we become sick and feeble.

The Neanderthals couldn’t use fire indoors. They couldn’t tolerate smoke. Ask them how that worked out.

Oh. You can’t.

23 thoughts on “Smoke and fire

  1. All of these MSM ‘science’ mags must, like their ‘news’ counterparts, promote the same themes, otherwise there is a danger of their readers finding out the truth. When we had a coal fire in the 1970s, the dog and other pets didn’t die of smoke-related disease (that I know of), so I find this supposed tolerance of smoke in “us” over Neanderthals to be dubious at best.

    What makes a Neanderthal a Neanderthal? The shape of the skull. It is believed (by some, incl. me) that these people were normal humans who, through vitamin D deficiency, perhaps due to the Ice Age, led to their deformed skull and the rickets, broken bones and poor teeth associated with their remains.

    They probably also married ‘normal’ humans, so many people today could be part-Neanderthals, or the Neanderthals themselves returned to looking normal once the earth warmed up again.

    Every scientist should have a Bible on hand. They would know that Neanderthals were people (only people have religion, etc.) and they would have avoided mistakes like this one, corrected in 2005 by the same esteemed [cough] organ: Fossil dung reveals dinosaurs did graze grass.

    All that someone had to do was to read the first chapter of Genesis:

    “And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.”

    Secular scientists seem to prefer fumbling around in the dark, rather than consult source material like scripture, because they believe that matter is all that there is, i,.e they work from that position of faith.

    The more that the secular humanists have hijacked science, the more ridiculous it has become.

    That is why smoking causes all known diseases, including the Neanderthals’ rickets, probably…


    • I have to add that I don’t agree with the long ages in the article that I linked to. The eyewitness source material suggests otherwise, as does the existence of soft tissue and blood cells found in dinosaur fossils.


      • Who is to say how long a day for God is as compared to man.
        The 7 God days it took for Creaion might(God time) well be 7 billion years of man’s time.


        • A common argument, however, the Hebrew word used in Genesis is ‘Yom’ which is a literal day, especially when used with ordinal numbers. In every case, it means a literal 24 hour period.

          This ‘Day-Age Theory’ goes back a fair way now, as theologians tried to fit in modern ‘scientific’ interpretations into scripture, when the opposite should have been done, but theologians thought, like so many people today, that the scientists must be right.

          (There are models to explain how the light from stars billions of light years away can reach us in a short time.)

          Creationists who stayed true to the paradigm, were correct many times, while secular scientists were very badly wrong, e.g. the 97% junk DNA myth and the idea of vestigial organs. I was butchered as a five year-old when I had my tonsils removed, as it was the fashion of the time (1968), because they were thought to be remnants of our mythical evolutionary past.

          Of course ‘we’ now know that they are there to help fight infection. It makes me wonder how many illnesses of today are due to the jihad against tonsils of half a century ago.


  2. Nobody seems to want to mention the occasional major volcanic eruption. No one ever seems to want to “convert” the CO2 output from a small eruption like that in Iceland a few years ago to the equivalent in, say, CO2 produced by vehicles! As for something like the 1883 Krakatoa eruption, it probably threw more CO2 and particles into the air than the whole world does in a year! Certainly it had worldwide effects for over three years.


  3. To be honest, the researchers have several problems, starting with the fact that they have never actually lived the lifestyle of cavemen, nor faced those dangers and challenges.

    The main problem a caveman has is that his night vision is really crap by the standards of all of the big, predatory horrors that hunt by night. The only real advantage we have is that we know about fire, and that gives us a leg up on predators, as well as keeping us warm and cooking food.

    To utilise this correctly, you really need a rock overhang; you don’t really want a cave as such, because they tend to be a bit draughty and you never know what might be lurking in the depths of one; with a rock overhang you know that trouble won’t be creeping up behind you. All archaeological evidence points to archaic humans only ever using the very entrances of caves in the infrequent times they used caves at all. To call people “cavemen” is actually misunderstanding how life was back then.

    Night time preparations for archaic humans went something like this: having gotten a decent supply of food and a lot of firewood, head back to the rock shelter (NOT a cave), get the fire going and sort out comfy bedding with the kids getting the safest spots up next to the rockface (check beforehand for snakes etc). Get the fire blazing, cook and eat dinner, and then everyone beds down for the night, with a few people waking up every so often to stoke up the fire.

    Any predator out there knows perfectly well that there are humans present. It can hear them, smell them, smell tasty cooked food and so on, but most of the big nasties will also not like fire and fire is all it can see at this point; older predators will also likely have had the odd run-in with humans and the survivors would not really want to make the acquaintance of a band of humans again.

    So, why are humans smoke-resistant?

    Simple answer is, we aren’t smoke resistant, so much as badly-burned cooking resistant because we’ve been badly overcooking things for so long that evolved resistance to over-cooked food has crept into our genome.


      • Humans have lived in caves, but the term ‘cavemen’ is not appropriate, as it implies descent from ape-like ancestors, which is, to me, bonkers.

        The Neanderthals in question lived like ordinary humans – because they were.

        National Geographic is another purveyor of myths, hoaxes and general ‘fake news’.

        Like their promotion of the ‘stone age’ Tasaday people in the Philippines, who were found living just as the anthropologists had predicted, but…


      • The deeper reaches of caves, where the art tends to be, would perhaps have been for ceremonial purposes, the birthplace of religion. Although temperatures there are stable it is rather cold, and pitch black. I tend to go with the rock overhang idea, such as those in the Dordogne valley.


        • I reject the idea of the classic modern ‘caveman’ stereotype, because I reject Darwinism and I also reject the idea that man invented religion, although since the creation and after the Flood, they created many, but not the true one.

          The people who drew these cave paintings were sophisticated human beings. On leaving Lascaux, Picasso said, “We have invented nothing”.

          More fascinating is the recent idea that some cave paintings could actually be prototype movies, where animals are painted in positions that the movement of light produces an idea of motion.

          “Over the past few years, a small number of prehistorians have claimed that cave dwellers pioneered a sort of show business. According to their analyses, our ancestors told intricate stories with their paintings, using visual trickery, 3D special effects and a form of shadow puppetry to bring their narratives to life.”

          From our old friends at ‘New Scientist’ again:


        • I concede that a rock overhang might make a useful temporary overnight shelter in good weather but a cave would be better for a long term base and dwelling. A mixture of the two would be ideal for a semi-nomadic hunter/gatherer existence utilising a territory no more than a day or two’s travel across.

          The deeper areas of the cave might well have been used for special purposes but of course a lit fire would have resolved the problems of darkness and cold. There’s also the potential for maintaining a permanent flame, like the ancient Greeks did very much later.


    • On the basis of badly cooked, burned food my much loved late mother in law was the most highly evolved being on the planet.


    • “with a few people waking up every so often to stoke up the fire”

      Funny you should mention that. A bit OT, but one of my own pet theories these days relates to said task. Why are some people (like myself) “night people,” who can happily sit up all night without a flicker of tiredness, whereas other people (like my OH) are “day people” who spring out of bed in the morning as bright as a button, but who can’t keep their eyes open as soon as dusk falls (or sooner, sometimes)? For sure, a tribe might rely on someone to “wake up every so often” to stoke the fire, but it would be something of a risky strategy. What if nobody does happen to conveniently “wake up,” or if they wake up just that bit too late, when the fire has died down completely, so they’ve got to re-light the whole thing from scratch? A fast-asleep tribe of humans would be easy pickings for any night predator who happened to chance by, if that scary hot fire had inadvertently been allowed to fade away. Surely it’s far safer to have some “night folks” in your midst who could happily stay awake during the hours of darkness, keeping the fire going and, of course, keeping an eye open for that passing predator, so that they could wake the others and scare it off before it actually got to the point of entering whatever sleeping den had been chosen – prevention, in this case, being infinitely preferable to cure, which might come at the cost of one or more of one’s tribe being snatched away or injured in the process. Not to mention the fact that tasks such as caring for newborns – prone as they are to require feeding and attention at frequent intervals during both night and day – could be shared amongst the “night” and “day” females of the tribe (bearing in mind that, as frequent ovulators, most of the females would be either pregnant or lactating most of the time – no big gaps of two or three years between kids back then!), thus enabling all mothers to rest and recuperate fully during “their” sleeping times, keeping them fitter and stronger and more able to produce more children.

      So, to my way of thinking, some of us are genetically programmed to be alert during the night and to sleep during the day as a remnant of those early days, even though the advent of modern “civilisation” with its absence of big predators, secure homes and artificial lighting and heating has rendered their jobs as “night watchman” largely unnecessary. The effect of night-work on health has been a much-mentioned topic of late – largely in respect of “day people” who are obliged to work at night, i.e. against their genetic programming, so that they rarely get to sleep at the “right” time for them. What’s never mentioned in any of these discussions is the effect upon “night people” of having to work during daylight hours, when they would naturally be sleeping. No wonder so many people are getting sick and stressed-out today. A large percentage of “night people” them have probably been working the “wrong shift” for their entire working lives! Now, that would be an interesting study to see!


      • I’m one of the night people (is anyone surprised?). Always preferred late shift and in self-employment I can go with my natural rhythm. Up at the crack of noon, in bed by dawn, mostly.

        The late opening of many supermarkets has been a definite bonus for me. Especially as getting there late means you get the heavily-reduced bakery items 😀


  4. if you ask the landowner nicely, after the forestry commission has chopped its trees down, all the stuff that’s left over, you can go through and pick what you need… only allowed north of the border


  5. The poorest people in the world tend to use indoor solid fuel (mostly wood, peat or dung) fires for cooking. The WHO has, for decades, maintained that the smoke from such fires kill millions of people every year. From the link below:“WHO estimates exposure to air pollution from cooking with solid fuels is associated with over 4 million premature deaths worldwide every year including half a million children under the age of 5 years from pneumonia…”

    Such fires give off smoke that is chokingly thick and very acrid so it is reasonable to suppose that it is harmful. It contains all of the same toxins and carcinogens that tobacco smoke does but in vastly higher concentrations. It is very different from the mellow tobacco smoke that so many people enjoy. So on the face of it, it has no relevance to the tobacco smoking issue. But there again…

    Is the WHO really correct about cooking smoke being so harmful? I don’t claim to know but a recent study suggests that the WHO are very wrong. I thought it was very interesting and possibly revealing.

    The study was a (single) blind, controlled intervention study. So proper science rather than just a survey. It appears to have been very well conducted and was, apparently, the biggest study ever done. Two smaller such studies were mentioned but what little evidence, and there was very little, in the WHO’s favour in them appears to be in the form of highly subjective measurements.

    The upshot is that replacing the smokey cooking fires with fires that were almost smoke free made no difference.
    Do smoke-free stoves really save lives?


    • It would depend on ventilation – as long as the smoke can go somewhere the buildup won’t be too bad. Even a hole in the roof is better than nothing.

      As for smokeless fuels, they still put particulates into the air, you just can’t see them 😉


  6. Pingback: Supposing A Smokers’ Symposium – Library of Libraries

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