Die In A Fire

Of the many expressions online that I really dislike, topping the list has got to be “die in a fire”. Like virtually every other Internet expression, it’s bandied about carelessly, and the people who use it probably don’t think about it a whole lot. So here’s a bit of perspective in the hopes that at least for the more thoughtful, careful, and socially sensitive people in the group of folks I like to call friends, we can retire this awful phrase.

When you’re caught in a fire, the first thing that generally happens is that the hair and surface skin burns, usually very quickly. Anyone who’s singed themselves while cooking or tending a fireplace has gotten a taste of what this is like. The skin cracks, the hair burns off, and the nerve endings all fire at the same time, communicating only one thing – you’re in a heck of a lot of trouble and pain.

As your body heats up from the fire, the fat underneath the skin melts. As with all animal fats, it melts at a relatively low heat point, instantly causing some skin to slough off in flakes and sheets. Your eyes will be especially affected – the eyelids are thin tissue and will be destroyed relatively quickly, but the liquid eyeball itself will boil first, then burst, and only then burn.

If you’re exposed to direct flame, you will catch fire just like a wick in a wax candle. At this point, if you’re lucky, you’ll have a low tolerance for pain, fall unconscious, and never wake up.

If you’re not lucky, you may live long enough to watch your body fall apart. Incidentally, the voice box is relatively well protected by heavy cartilage and muscle, so if you’re still conscious, you can still scream.

Once the skin and surface tissue have melted and burned away, the proteins making up tissue and muscle are the next to cook, then burn. Internal organs heat to the boiling point, then explode, and as the muscles burn away, they too dry up, wither, and burn away.

If the fire’s not particularly hot, what will be left will be a skeleton with carbonized tissue attached to it. If the fire is sufficiently hot, the proteins that bind the minerals in your bones will burn away as well, causing your bones to fall to ashes.

This is what it means to die in a fire. To wish that on anyone, even casually or in jest, is to wish them one of the most painful ways to leave this mortal coil.

If you’d like to see what happens when you only get injured by fire, take a look at Youssif, an Iraqi boy doused in gasoline and lit on fire.

Now, can we retire that expression?

post-script: in case you were wondering where the expression crossed my radar, someone invited to a Facebook group named People who Type Like This Can Die in a Fire. Needless to say, I declined the invitation (and the subsequent zombie requests as well)

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