Are Ancient Ruins Flammable?





Firefighters in Greece narrowly saved the ruins of Olympia from the wildfires that spread across the island nation over the weekend. The blaze torched the edges of the stadium, but officials say the archaeological treasure survived. Can ancient ruins catch on fire?

No, but they can crumble from the heat. Greek ruins made of limestone or marble aren't going to burst into flames, but they can undergo physical and chemical changes when subjected to the heat of burning vegetation nearby. The outside layers of an ancient building heat up faster than the inside, causing the surface to crack and fall off in dinner plate-sized chunks. At about 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, the rocks begin to release carbon dioxide. (Trees ignite at about 660 degrees, and wildfires can reach 1,800 degrees.) Since CO2 helps hold limestone and marble together, sustained heat can weaken the material until it's reduced to powder.


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