Science: Asbestos

To rangers fighting a forest fire in the Santiago Canyon region in California their messenger dog came crawling on his belly. His eyes were red from the smoke, his fur burned by shoots of fire. While rangers comforted him, he licked his burns, fell asleep, whimpering. This must not happen again. So District Ranger Bill Freer made him an asbestos coat, good protection. Asbestos, a mineral found notably in the Province of Quebec, does not decompose under even relatively high degrees of heat. Nor does it allow heat to pass through it easily. Another characteristic is its resistance to most acids. These points and the fact that it appears as silky, flexible fibres which can be woven or felted into fabrics,* or mixed with cements for fireproofing, make asbestos invaluable industrially.

*The Greeks wove shrouds of asbestos fibre in which to cremate their dead. Thus the human ashes were kept from mixing with the wood ashes of the pyre. The Greeks also used asbestos cloth for handkerchiefs, and Charlemagne is said to have had an asbestos tablecloth which he threw into the fire to cleanse.

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