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It appears that you can accidentally & unsafely have an unsafe occurrence with a 'Flameless ration heater'.

The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) conducted testing and released a report which in summary states "... the release of hydrogen gas from these flameless ration heaters is of a sufficient quantity to pose a potential hazard on board a passenger aircraft."[3] This testing was performed on commercial grade 'heater meals' which consisted of an unenclosed flameless heat pouch, a bag of salt water, a styrofoam saucer/tray and a meal in a sealed, microwavable/boilable bowl. Source

Assuming a quantity of dry fuel exist to build a fire, could I use a 'Flameless ration heater' to safely ignite a fire for cooking and heating?

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The simple answer is - no.

Safely igniting a fire relies on controlled combustion. Improvising ignition out of a device like this is not going to create the sort of controlled combustion I associate with safety. If you can ignite the hydrogen byproduct you are more likely to get an explosive reaction that is both unsafe and unlikely to light your tinder (more likely to just blow it around). Salvaging the magnesium is safer, but you are unlikely to be able to salvage enough to start a fire (it takes more than you'd think).

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Hydrogen gas doesn't spontaneously ignite, but does burn in air over a wide range of concentrations. It's also ready to ignite with a spark. So although you may be able to start a fire with one, the source you quote is almost irrelevant on that fact. Hydrogen can also be given off when charging lead acid batteries - not a hot process indicating that has generation is independent of temperature.

If you did want to start a fire using one, the most effective way would probably be to use as designed, redirecting the gas towards your tinder, and try to ignite it with a spark. Any air caught in the heater could allow for a possible explosion so it may not be a good idea. Flashback may also be a worry.

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Yes you can. Well... sort of.

You can open the bag and use the magnesium powder (its a mixture really) inside as fire starter (think the classic old photography flash kind of effect but much much less violent and spectacular as that mixture would be a slow burning one) or you can light the hydrogen mixed with steam that comes off the bag when the reaction starts, although not all kinds are exactly the same in the kind of gas mixture given off. (dont heat up your MRE right beside the campfire ;) )

In itself the heat given off by reaction of one bag is not hot enough to light a fire and cant ignite the hydrogen produced (the hottest one will be a bit above 100C)

  • How would you ignite it? This answer implies you are using the powder as an acceleration/kindling not a source of the initial ignition. – James Jenkins Apr 11 '16 at 15:17
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    Exactly, you need sparks for both or incandescence or a strong oxidizer (potassium nitrate for example, in the right proportions that mixture can self ignite) You could use a battery and some steel wool to ignite it (or the prison lighter with the chewing gum wrap foil). It would be an help if using the "bow drill" method I guess... – Erik vanDoren Apr 11 '16 at 16:12

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