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  1. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    how would you spread a fire?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Mckk, Jun 18, 2017.

    So, my enemy is coming to attack a small town. My heroine has decided to lure the enemy into the heart of the evacuated town, and then set fire to the whole place from the periphery and burn the enemy to death, because facing the enemy head-on in battle would be suicide.

    For context: this is a fantasy novel, roughly medieval setting. There is magic but I'm trying to keep the fact that my heroine is actually a mage a secret, so I don't wanna say "magic did it".

    The town: it is small, full of wooden buildings in close proximity of each other. It should really burn quite well all on its own.

    Dilemma: I need the fire to burn fast. I need the fire to engulf the entire town and to burn so bad that the enemy cannot get out (some obviously do get out, but I want the fire to kill off most of them).

    At first I thought you could douse the periphery of the town with a trail of oil, but a friend asked if the enemy wouldn't notice the smell and thus catch on to the plan?

    Then I thought of using bundles of fur and clothes, but the same friend asked if the fur/clothes wouldn't just burn up really fast and not actually help spread the fire at all?

    So, thoughts? What would help the town catch fire super quick without giving the plan away to the enemy?
     
  2. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Bing Bang Boom

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    Wind is what will spread a forest fire faster than anything. For a town? You'd need multiple ignition points and some kind of accelerant to move it from house to house. Could they be slum-like so each building is connected?

    Not seeing how your villain would get trapped by it though. Everything in every direction would have to go up at once.
     
  3. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Well, my idea is that the soldiers light the fire once the enemy is inside. Then the soldiers split up and help the fire around the periphery of the town as they get to the other side of the town on horseback. The enemy wouldn't know the town is burning in the beginning as he should be at or near the heart of the town when the burning starts. By the time he knows about the fire, it should have already engulfed the whole circumference of the town, or at least most of it. And the enemy wouldn't exactly know where the gap in the chain of fire is.
     
  4. Thundair

    Thundair Active Member

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    100 flaming arrows
     
  5. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Wrting is never clean. :) Contributor

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    There is a fallacy to flaming arrows being effective. They usually don't do much
    besides sound scary.

    Any dry fuel plus wind will do. Tossing torches on thatch will be pretty effective.
     
  6. Malisky

    Malisky Fuzz Overdriver Contributor

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  7. RWK

    RWK Member

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    I'm unclear on why the burning town will kill the bulk of the soldiers. There are numerous examples of troops not just moving through, but looting and partying in the streets of burning towns. Fire is not the primary killer, smoke inhalation is, and with the heat-borne smoke rising straight up it will not concentrate to suffocation levels.

    Burning the town is rather simple: wet tallow and resin, particularly pine, will certainly do the trick, given as noted the use of thatch. But it won't kill many if any.

    Towns are primarily useful for disrupting the formations of professional forces so that irregulars/.conscripts can engage them on more equal grounds.

    Once again, I wax pedantic; in fantasy much is acceptable.

    Coat walls at ground level with fresh tallow and resin (floors are likely dirt) and at the key moment release rats (plenty in any human settlement in a medieval period) towing raw cotton streamers which are coated in wax, with tallow atop the wax. Light the tip of the streamer, and the rat's flight will serve to ignite. You will have to use at least 2.5 rats per structure, and it will take two handlers per twenty rats to really get things going.

    The handlers will be at some risk.
     
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  8. amerrigan

    amerrigan Active Member

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    Well... coming from Australia, the land that periodically bursts into flames, I can suggest that it is the quality and density of the air that most helps with the spread of flames, even more so than having flammable things sitting around.

    A very thin hot air makes a flame jump surprising distances. I once accidentally set fire to a tree two meters away from me by sparking an empty cigarette lighter, and I'm not exaggerating.

    It may be interesting to read her using her magic in a secret way, by casting something nobody would notice, a spell that changes the quality of the air so that it would be in a condition that would better suit the sudden spread of fire.
     
  9. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Wrting is never clean. :) Contributor

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    That is actually pretty accurate. Most that died at the hands of those with flame throwers
    in WWII and Vietnam, died from carbon monoxide poisoning. More so in the former
    in the trench warfare.
     
  10. Pinkymcfiddle

    Pinkymcfiddle Banned

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    that is on odd one given UK Circumstances. I can tell you this, the public sector
    self insures and the private sector relies on private insurance. In 1992 there was a situation where the polystyrene insert panels were used in a factory, and when they burned it killed several fire fighters. Since then we could not use it in the private sector, because no one would insure us. 25 years later some cunt used it on the outside of a public building. I would have told them not to, anyone in my position would. Cunts!
    Edit sorry for language
     
  11. RWK

    RWK Member

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    Its from the intro to the last arson investigation class I attended. ;)
     
  12. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Wrting is never clean. :) Contributor

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    They talked about it on Forgotten Weapons channel, before playing with one of the old school weapons.
    (Kinda found it strange that you can actually own a flamethrower here in the US.)
     
  13. big soft moose

    big soft moose All killer, no filler. Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Personally i'd say set the fire to provide cover then hunt the enemy guerrilla style through the streets using your forces local knowledge to sting them and then fade away

    or use the fire as a diversion for a small unit to get behind the enemy and stampede their horses, torch their supplies etc so that they can't pursue your people as they head for sanctuary.

    If you are in gun powder scenario you could use IED tactics by seeding barrels of powder strapped with nails through the town and then setting the fire ... but fire on its own won't kill the enemy, unless you can trap them inside a structure then burn it
     
  14. RWK

    RWK Member

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    It weighs 75 pounds, and hold 6-8 seconds worth of fuel. Not a big worry item.
     
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  15. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Contributor Contributor

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    In a fantasy world, assuming there isn't magic, then your only option is going to be some kind of accelerant. That's not necessarily that hard to do though; cover a good chunk of the thatch in pitch and jobs a good'un. It'll take a long time for the place to literally burn to the ground but the fire will spread very quickly from place to place, doubly so if you start the fires in various places.

    I think Greek Fire is a bad idea unless you have a specifically steam punk or alchemical feel to the world. Yes, it almost certainly existed, but this will immediately beg the question of why exactly aren't we using our medieval flamethrowers all the time; why doesn't everyone throw pots of napalm at each other since clearly we know how to do that. In history greek fire was close to useless on land, but in fiction it does rather capture the imagination and I think in a fictitious world it feels incongrous just to use this terrifying flaming weapon one time, and only to start a fire.

    Oh and don't use fire arrows. They don't actually work and if something is within bowshot then it's close enough to send a bloke with a tinderbox to sneak around (or hiding inside) and start the fire personally. I think a squad of blokes igniting tar-dipped thatch keeps appropriate medieval feel.
     
  16. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Contributor Contributor

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    I think part of the problem would be to keep/trap the enemy soldiers within the town. If they scatter as everything erupts in flame, a lot would likely escape.

    If the town has a wall, or is on a river, which would form a barrier, that might help.

    If you could have the fires erupt at one end, driving the enemy one direction and then flame up to cut off a potential escape route, that would mean more time in the town, for the fires to get going. But if there are roads going in and out of town that would offer a wide area for men to escape, unless buildings were wildly aflame and possibly fall across them.

    Various lamp oils and such could work as something to accelerate the spread, but as was indicated, could be a giveaway.

    Picking off fleeing enemy soldiers with arrows, while they are in disarray might help the cause.
     
  17. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Contributor Contributor

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    I think this is probably the best way to go.

    I suspect fires wouldn't be all that deadly to people who aren't inside the buildings, especially not one story, ground level buildings made of things that in a push you could probably break through. So really the fire is about distracting and breaking up the enemy, making them get out of formation and then using something else to do the damage. You could just twang arrows at them (although if they are in armor then that's not that good, after all if you have bows that can punch through their armor then you don't need to break them up you can just twang them to death anyway). I think a better plan is to build a U shaped barricade of fire, then charge into the open end and murder everyone inside it.

    The fire breaks up the formation, the fire keeps the enemy scared and looking to run, not realizing until it's too late that the only way they can run is into a collection of killing cutlery. In the smoke and the fire it's clearly not easy to figure out what the hell is happening, and almost impossible to rally men in those situations. Even a very small group of attackers could easily stoke the panic and keep the enemy broken. Just as a group of people fighting sensibly in formation against isolated, fleeing men you could do appalling casualties.
     
  18. Walking Dog

    Walking Dog Active Member

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    Magic can be used without revealing it at the time. Evacuate the town. When the soldiers invade, set them ablaze. This works if you describe the event from an objective POV. Maybe the sun dims, followed by fire balls raining from the sky. Or maybe a white fog fills the streets, choking at first, followed by combustion. It's a mystery. Who or what caused this event? The townspeople can't explain it. Was it a blessing or the Devil's work? The reveal comes later in the book.
     
  19. Commandante Lemming

    Commandante Lemming Contributor Contributor

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    So, I think a bit of this has already been said by people who've already commented from fire-prone areas, but obviously high wind is always a big reason wildfires spread. I'm originally from Colorado and when the wind picked up or changed during a wildfire is always a big deal (that's helps the fire jump paved highways that might otherwise act as a fire break). Also, while forest fires are going to have more sustained power by a long shot, GRASS FIRES will spread quicker over a small area and short period of time. So, dried out grass is your friend.
     
  20. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Hmmm.... oh dear. Well, I don't think I can change the whole plan now. Would you very realistic fire-battle writers find the following explanation acceptable for why the troops are panicking and that most could not get out?

    He squinted at the fire – it was the only thing he could see – and knew a mage had to be behind it. Something in its strength, in its brightness, in how fast it all happened. There was no gap between the burning structures – the fire stretched right across them as if cobbled stones were good for fuel.
     
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2017
  21. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Bing Bang Boom

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    It's fine... nobody is going to care. Dont point at the plot hole. The less you explain the better.
     
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  22. Commandante Lemming

    Commandante Lemming Contributor Contributor

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    Amen, Brother Potvin!
     
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  23. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    If you lot who's commented here read the scene now, wouldn't you laugh out loud at the absurdity of the characters' reactions!?

    The description comes when I'm actually describing the fire anyway (my immortal villain is using his own magic to move the fire and escape - he's a very powerful mage himself) It's not an unnatural place. You really don't think it's better this way?
     
  24. Teresa Mendes

    Teresa Mendes Member

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    A lot of people gave you great input so I'll just add that choosing a day that's hot and dry will work better. And the night period tends to have higher humidity and to be more difficult spread a fire.

    And don't forget that's usually the smoke that kills people.
     
  25. Michael Pless

    Michael Pless Senior Member

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    Just resurrecting this thread because I read it a few days ago and it perplexed me a little.

    Yes smoke is a real problem to those caught in a fire, and though it's probably not relevant in a fantasy setting, modern synthetics tend to give off more noxious gases and smoke than natural products.

    The size of the "small town" and also the size of the invading force is an issue for me: if the town is too large, and the invaders also relatively large, then sending out scouts becomes an issue to allow for. Scouts could sneak in and either find the town deserted or the pitch/oil/accelerant. And if the town is too large, destroying the whole thing won't be a politically wise move as merchants cut up dark over loss of income.

    Keeping the invaders in the town - I assume they're on horseback - becomes a problem unless there is some barrier. Here, the suggestion that the town is ringed by a city wall is excellent, because horses panic and are very powerful, but find it difficult to get through a wall or stockade.

    In a recent episode of Marco Polo, Kublai was outside a walled city. He had a wagon with a massive bird cage filled with small birds that had lumps of (what I presume is) pitch or other flammable material tied to their legs by cords. Not enough to weigh them down too much, but enough to ensure they didn't fly too far. Servants ignited the pitch, and once it was burning well, released the birds. The birds flew to the town and settled on the house rooves where the fires took hold and destroyed the city and most people within it. The magic of movies/television ensured every bird flew straight to the town and nowhere else. But it was a very clever idea. Horses with some form of incendiary on a cart or in a vessel tied atop them would cover a huge amount of ground very quickly (I think this has been done before, too), spreading fire as they went - thatched rooves are great fire hazards, but I imagine wood is also a danger. I watched a documentary about wildfires (in Oz they're bushfires) in the USA and in it they mentioned that wood roof shingles can be great for spreading fire because they burn and then the bit that's nailed to the roof trusses or similar burns away, with the wind of the fire lifting these pieces of burning fuel and spreading them out. So thatches aren't a necessity. You can forewarn the reader by mentioning one source of fire hazard or another once or twice so the reader isn't taken completely by surprise, a bit like when in the movies the hero and bad guy are fighting and a pipe snaps off or some sharp piece of metal becomes exposed and the camera focuses on it for a few seconds - the viewer just knows someone is going to be impaled.

    After the town has burnt down, the townspeople can go in at leisure and wipe out those invaders who are still alive, if any.

    I don't think it's necessary to give the weather too much thought, so long as it isn't raining because timber used in construction will be quite dry and present a wonderful fuel load. Oils remain in the timber for some time but with heat, volatilize and burn. (Only gases burn.)

    It is very straightforward to rig a time-delay for a fire - often in movies there's a piece of string running through a candle. The end of the string is attached to a vessel containing oil or similar.

    I hope this helps.
     

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