The idea exploits a scientific phenomenon first noticed 200 years ago – that electricity can affect the shape of flames, making them bend, twist, flicker and even die out.
Scientists connected a 600-watt amplifier to a wizard-style wand and used it to shoot beams of electricity at a flame more than a foot high.
The fire was snuffed out almost instantly, an American Chemical Society conference heard on Sunday
Researcher Ludovico Cademartiri believes firemen could use the wands in the future, allowing them to work from safer distances than their predecessors, such as famed oil-well fighter Paul ‘Red’ Adair.
The devices could also part flames, allowing the emergency services to enter burning buildings – and trapped occupants to escape them.Other possibilities include electric ceiling ‘sprinklers’ for use in buildings, primed to spark into action at the first sign of a fire.It is thought that an electric current makes the particles of soot in a flame move.
This creates a flow of gas which weakens the flame and, if the current is large enough, can even make it die out.
However, Dr Cademartiri suggested even a much weaker current than the one tested would have firefighting properties.
He said his team’s findings had shown ‘that by applying large electric fields we can suppress flames very rapidly’.