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The specific heat of a substance defines the amount of heat it is absorbing as the temperature of the substance is rising. Different materials will possess different specific heats. The specific heat of a material is important as it defines an objective of fire protection design.
If the specific heat of a material is reached, combustion begins. Thus, the amount of a cooling substance, such as water, has to be calculated to keep the material below its specific heat. In other words, the water applied has to be enough to cool the material. If enough water can't be supplied, the water supply will be overrun, and the fire will grow. This is typically how a building and its contents may well be totally destroyed, even though the building is fully protected by automatic sprinklers. A fire starts and the materials in the building are being heated. Their specific heat is reached. The sprinkler system operates, but not enough water is being applied to the burning surfaces to absorb the heat being generated. More objects are being heated to their specific heat levels, and the water applied can't keep up. Thus, the building is totally destroyed by fire, even though sprinklers operated.
© Hughes Associates,Inc. 2012