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Topic: Illusion of burning river - nitrocellulose?  (Read 424 times)

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Offline Labradoree

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Illusion of burning river - nitrocellulose?
« on: August 11, 2020, 02:59:04 AM »
Hello!

Hope I chose the right department. I am writing a book and in it's final I wanted to create an illusion of the burning Vistula river (Warsaw, Poland). One of the characters is an illusionist and wants to do an act in the popular spot where all the people sit on the banks and have fun, it's right after some bridge.

The idea is to create a miracle (a reference to the biblical burning bush that Moses saw). At night in the summer, when people sit on both sides of the Vistula River, I would like to have an effect of a mysterious fire - preferably a wall of fire that suddenly appears above the water and then disappears. Maybe someone already comes up with some clues?

I've already done some research, of course. In the first version, the characters were supposed to pour extraction gasoline into the river and set it on fire, but it's probably not the best idea, right? Someone figured it out for me that it would take 200 liters for a river to catch fire, but this must be nonsense. And there wouldn't be that wall of fire effect, it would just be a fire a little above the water, right?

An university professor helped me with the second concept. I corresponded with him for a while, but then the contact broke off. Nevertheless, he offered me nitrocellulose (NC) sheets idea - throw them into the water and set them on fire. This is a nice lead. I know NC burns super fast and even under water. However, I do not know how much of it I'd need my characters to have and how high the fire would burn.

Currently, I think that I could use tiny, around 8 m wide and 50 m long, promontory in the middle of the Vistula, a shallow, and lay thick layers of NC there.

So how high do you think the NC could catch fire and how much of it I'd need?

I am open to any suggestions. The effect must be "wow", so that on the second day in the world of my novel people would see headlines such as "mysterious fire on the Vistula on the night of meteorites. Witnesses talk about the sacred revelation" :) The plot is sewn with thick threads (I dont now if there is such an expression in English, but there is in Polish :)), so even the most crazy ideas will be appreciated. We can also turn a blind eye to some specialized issues :)

Can you help?

Offline Borek

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Re: Illusion of burning river - nitrocellulose?
« Reply #1 on: August 11, 2020, 04:36:54 AM »
Well, if you don't care too much about reality you not need to go into details, aren't you? Just do some handwaving, mention wires and NC sheets and you are ready.

There is a trick I learned many years ago. You take a resin (the kind that covers tree trunks during heat waves), dry it (either by waiting or by gently heating), crush it into a dust, then throw the dust into air and ignite it. Kaboom, nice mushroom of fire. My bet is most combustible dusts will behave this way (after all that's how mills explode).

Which year is the story set in? That puts some strains on the technology available.

bab.la suggests "plain as a pikestaff" as the translation of the idiom ;) glosbe gives numerous other examples: https://glosbe.com/pl/en/grubymi%20nićmi%20szyty
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Offline Labradoree

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Re: Illusion of burning river - nitrocellulose?
« Reply #2 on: August 11, 2020, 06:02:44 AM »
Well, if you don't care too much about reality you not need to go into details, aren't you? Just do some handwaving, mention wires and NC sheets and you are ready.

There is a trick I learned many years ago. You take a resin (the kind that covers tree trunks during heat waves), dry it (either by waiting or by gently heating), crush it into a dust, then throw the dust into air and ignite it. Kaboom, nice mushroom of fire. My bet is most combustible dusts will behave this way (after all that's how mills explode).

Which year is the story set in? That puts some strains on the technology available.

bab.la suggests "plain as a pikestaff" as the translation of the idiom ;) glosbe gives numerous other examples: https://glosbe.com/pl/en/grubymi%20nićmi%20szyty

Thank you for your reply. Yes, I want do it in hand-waving manner :) I could just say I use kilograms of NC and burned it, but my first I want to make sure of my options :) btw. when you wrote "mention wires" you meant wires that would connect sheets of NC?

The story is set in contemporary times, four years ago to be exact :)

I really like your idea with igniting resin (or any other combustible dust). How did you throw it and ignite it?

I've also learned about hexane recently. Would it burn if put in the water?

Offline Borek

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Re: Illusion of burning river - nitrocellulose?
« Reply #3 on: August 11, 2020, 09:02:25 AM »
btw. when you wrote "mention wires" you meant wires that would connect sheets of NC?

Wires as in something used to hang the sheets over water.

Quote
I really like your idea with igniting resin (or any other combustible dust). How did you throw it and ignite it?

Easier to show than to explain. Hand and a match. Might do a YT video one day.

Quote
I've also learned about hexane recently. Would it burn if put in the water?

For your purposes it is not much different from gasoline (in which it is typically present in quite large quantities).
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Offline Labradoree

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Re: Illusion of burning river - nitrocellulose?
« Reply #4 on: August 11, 2020, 12:39:05 PM »
btw. when you wrote "mention wires" you meant wires that would connect sheets of NC?

Wires as in something used to hang the sheets over water.

Quote
I really like your idea with igniting resin (or any other combustible dust). How did you throw it and ignite it?

Easier to show than to explain. Hand and a match. Might do a YT video one day.

Quote
I've also learned about hexane recently. Would it burn if put in the water?

For your purposes it is not much different from gasoline (in which it is typically present in quite large quantities).

Thank you again for the replay. I suppose I'd do best sticking to nitrocellulose than. I am thinking now that I could use a thin piece of land in the middle of the river, a shallow and fill it with NC. I found a quick movie where scientists have lit 100 kg of it and in the description they said that blaze could rise 10-20 m high.
Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9ZYDd06nKY

My question would be in what form my characters should obtain cellulose? I saw in the Internet cellulse sheets - a 5kg package with many thin sheets, kind of like a bigger xero paper. Would they have to bind those thin sheets and soak it in acids? Or maybe there is other way?

It would be nice to have rolls of cotton like the rolls of grass that people use on footbal stadiums and just unroll them on the shallow. I suppose I'd like to write that they have produced around 1000 kg of NC so I am thinking what would be the best form for them to produce it and then unload it...

Offline Babcock_Hall

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Re: Illusion of burning river - nitrocellulose?
« Reply #5 on: August 11, 2020, 02:33:47 PM »
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38w2-NCdtio

You might look for videos about "guncotton," which is formed from cellulose and a mixture of nitric and sulfuric acids.

Offline Labradoree

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Re: Illusion of burning river - nitrocellulose?
« Reply #6 on: August 12, 2020, 09:30:07 AM »
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38w2-NCdtio

You might look for videos about "guncotton," which is formed from cellulose and a mixture of nitric and sulfuric acids.

Thank you for the answer. Yes I have seen those. I am wondering now how and it what form my characters could produce 1000kg of NC. Any ideas? :)

Offline Borek

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Re: Illusion of burning river - nitrocellulose?
« Reply #7 on: August 12, 2020, 11:02:41 AM »
From the technical/chemical point of view making nitrocellulose is a not a problem. From the legal POV making it or getting it without breaking the law and getting arrested - that calls for Houdini.
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Offline Labradoree

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Re: Illusion of burning river - nitrocellulose?
« Reply #8 on: August 12, 2020, 01:10:32 PM »
From the technical/chemical point of view making nitrocellulose is a not a problem. From the legal POV making it or getting it without breaking the law and getting arrested - that calls for Houdini.

Why is that? Can't acids be bought from shops?

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