Building an Inferno Chamber

Disclaimer: Obviously, fires are intrinsically unsafe, so please don’t try anything like this at home especially outside of a controlled environment. Also, please be mindful of seasonal fire restrictions, local laws, fire regulations and common sense. Notify neighbours and fire departments before performing any large private burn that could create risk for the broader community. Don’t be stupid.

Galactic Bioware’s 66 square foot (10m2) ventilated Inferno Chamber is rated to temperatures of over 1,832℉ (1,000℃) for testing Power Suits against extreme temperature conditions, direct flame contact and smoke inhalation.

The Chamber is situated at approx 1,640 ft (500 metres) of altitude, average atmospheric pressure of 90kPa (0.94atm) with average temperature low/high range of 38.3℉ (3.5℃) to 54.7℉ (12.6℃). It is located in a region with very high rainfall, low average temperatures and low population density as a general safety precaution.

The facility is supported by 2 x 30,000L water tanks, 2 x water dams and a high-flow bore, as well as a gamut of safety features including temperature, O2, CO and CO2 diagnostics, extinguishers, fire blankets, high-flow shower and 24/7 video surveillance.

The Build

Some of the challenges with building structures for sustained 1,000℃+ temperatures are that many of the established construction methods and core materials do not like high heat. For example, concrete explodes at surprisingly low temperatures due to its water content and sudden rises in built-up pressure when heated. Yet concrete is one of the most frequently used building materials by mass – twice that of steel, wood, plastics, and aluminium combined. Wood is also not famously fire retardant. Mortar used between bricks behaves similarly to concrete at high temperature, although not as explosive.

Instead, high heat refractory fire bricks need to be used that are designed to endure high heat for a prolonged period of time. Air setting refractory mortar instead of cement and water based mortar must be used to bond together the fire bricks. This approach can withstand temperature up to ~2,700℉ (~1,480℃).

“Traditional” concrete foundation approaches can be used to support the fire brick walls but they need to be deeper to ensure there is at least 30cm of soil and firebrick wall between the lowest point of the fire / heat source and the highest point of the concrete. Basically – start the brick wall 3-4 brick rows lower than you normally would. Other than that, the fire bricks can be laid in a normal brick pattern and basically operate as such. For our specific requirements, we then installed a variety of specialist equipment to monitor the internal environment for accurate testing purposes.

Even with just wood as fuel, fires with enclosed walls on all sides of a person can get sufficiently hot to replicate truly dangerous environments. We use our high range k-type immersible thermocouples distributed across the Inferno Chamber to wait for the desired temperature gradient and make sure there is enough smoke to simulate a dangerous structural fire and then we’re ready to test the Galactic Bioware Power Suits.

Stay tuned.