High oxygen atmosphere no fire risk, according to an article in New Scientist, 1 May 2004, p18.

A controversy over the oxygen content on the earth’s atmosphere in the past may have been solved by Richard Wildman of the California Institute of Technology. Some scientists have suggested that earth’s atmosphere once had more oxygen during the late Palaeozoic time because the giant insects that lived during this time would need more oxygen to survive. Other scientists have been sceptical of this idea because they claim the increased oxygen would fuel massively destructive wildfires that would burn down all the forests. The sceptics’ view appeared to be confirmed by experiments involving burning paper in high oxygen conditions.

Richard Wildman set up an experiment using real pine needles and varied the moisture content of the atmosphere as well as the oxygen in an enclosed chamber. The pine needles quickly burnt up in a dry atmosphere, but when the moisture content was similar to that of a natural forest the fire did not spread through the experimental chamber even with 35% oxygen in the atmosphere. Today’s atmosphere has 21% oxygen.

Editorial Comment: This experiment shows the importance of doing relevant experiments, i.e. using real leaves in real forest conditions. Creation Research has previously suggested the earth’s atmosphere once had more oxygen, and sceptics have used the fire hazard argument against us. Genesis 1-10 and the fossil record both indicate that prior to Noah’s flood, there was world-wide lush vegetation, with more moisture in the atmosphere, in plants and in soils than today. That good world, which was destroyed by Noah’s flood, would have supported giant wild animals but not giant wild fires.

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