Light my fire

Posted by C M Dodson on 31 Mar 2023, 15:48

Light my fire.

The re creation of fire in modelling is a tricky subject and indeed is open to all forms of interpretation.

The basics of combustion are oxygen, fuel and an ignition source. Once the fire has seeded it, given enough fuel, it will grow and devour everything unless checked.

The initial result is generally large volumes of smoke, but, as the heat increases, the smoke becomes less and the flames more prominent.


Volumes of smoke can be created with cotton wool.

My method, as suggested by Der Feldmarschall is to warm the cotton and tease it into strands. Less is more here as smoke, unless you are burning oil / tyres etc is generally white/ grey and too much will look like cotton wool.


I use unravelled picture wire to make a thin armature onto which the wool can be placed or threaded. If you use a modelling spray dye this can colour your pall as you wish. Flecks of red and yellow paint add drama representing the licking flames.

For Ligny, the wonderful wife also suggested battery operated tea lights inside the buildings. These were very effective with the smoke billowing.


Our railway modelling friends use oil burners in various systems which provide scale chimney smoke and look fantastic.

Something like these would look good positioned in a knocked out tank I think.

I have also used real fire to good effect but of course precautions are required including a full watering can.

Flames can easily get excited and ignore the scale you seek.

I use, if not destroying a building on purpose, a ‘burner’ made of several sheets of silver paper. These together with small amounts of broken up fire lighters allow a controlled burn.


Considerations when taking photographs is the amount of light generated can bleach the picture and also throw unwanted shadows.


However, when the elements come together the results can be pleasing.


Happy modelling and be careful!

Best wishes,

C M Dodson  United Kingdom
Posts: 2632
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01 May 2015, 18:48

Posted by Bessiere on 31 Mar 2023, 17:06

Thank you for your instructive expose Mr D. I doubt I shall ever use such measures but being a bit of a fire bug you never know. Just make sure my insurance company never reads this post!
Bessiere  United States of America
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23 May 2019, 15:50

Posted by Minuteman on 01 Apr 2023, 10:49

A very interesting and illuminating summary of your fire affects and techniques, Mr D. Thank you very much!

Real fire undoubtedly does create an awesome effect in your photographs. The range of combustible/smoke-producing techniques clearly also contributes to different sorts of flame/smoke, although I am left with the overriding impression that pictures taken once the building/tank etc is aflame need to be planned in advance and taken quickly, before the watering can becomes necessary.

My garage is some-what jammed with garden equipment, deck chairs, bikes and much of my plastic 'stash' (secure in waterproof crates) meaning that photos are now taken in the conservatory. This being the case, real fire is probably out of the question - I couldn't easily explain that I wanted to set fire to a model 'Blenheim village' while asking my wife to hold the full watering can "just in case, dear, and don't start pouring until I ask you to"!!

Flame and smoke will therefore have to be doctored onto my future pictures using my tried and tested, venerable MS Paint software. Less impressive, but less of an insurance risk.

Keep up the splendid work! :yeah:
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Minuteman  United Kingdom
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06 Mar 2020, 21:38

Posted by C M Dodson on 01 Apr 2023, 15:01

Thank you gentlemen for your kind comments.

It looks like Blenheim will have to settle for the cotton wool version, but do not forget the good old disco smoke machine for gunpowder smoke.

It’s not smelly and drifts away when you open the door.

You are of course right in that your camera shot need pre positioning prior to ignition otherwise things can get tricky as Mr Fire can get ambitious very quickly.

Best wishes,

C M Dodson  United Kingdom
Posts: 2632
Member since:
01 May 2015, 18:48

Posted by k.b. on 01 Apr 2023, 16:48

Fascinating to read the lengths you go to to represent fire on the battlefield Chris. Methinks the way yours truly is accident prone I’d not only set the buildings on the wargame table alight but my studio furniture and perhaps even my house itself may soon suffer a similar fate.

As such I’m with Minuteman and Wolfgang in sticking to cotton wool and cigar smoke… in all honesty I would say that real fire even appears a bit out of scale, perhaps ideal from a distance but up close it seems out of place.

Nevertheless, my utmost respect for the way you have brought all of your techniques together.
k.b.  Brazil
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04 Apr 2010, 03:50

Posted by C M Dodson on 01 Apr 2023, 19:08


The trick if things are a bit heated is to control the flames by waiting until they start to subside.

Uncontrolled house fires are massive and I am immediately thinking of the scene from the Patriot film.

Tank fires are equally spectacular as evidenced in news footage.

However, you are right less is usually more.

A disco smoker is far kinder on your lungs than cigars!

Happy modelling.

C M Dodson  United Kingdom
Posts: 2632
Member since:
01 May 2015, 18:48

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Posted by Peter on 01 Apr 2023, 19:45

I recomment this tool when you work with open fire:


Safety first! ;-)

PS1: don't take one with powder! That makes a lot of mess! :-D

PS2: see that your garagedoor doesn't get damage! :P
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Peter  Belgium

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25 Mar 2008, 18:51

Posted by diobuilder on 03 Apr 2023, 21:54

Hello Chris,

your ideas and techniques to "light the fire" a very interesting.

As fare as i know, you placed your nice dioramas in your garage.
So you are able to control the risk of making "a little bit light"...

I recently faced a similar problem with a small diorama.
But the question was more complex:
How do I make fine smoke without fire ???
Because my hobby room is up in the roof of my house..

And the solution came from "my little Field Marshal"...but unbeknownst to her...
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diobuilder  Germany
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10 Dec 2022, 15:00

Posted by steve_pickstock on 04 Apr 2023, 13:15

On the old Elhiem forum, someone built some 'smoke markers' - brightly coloured smoke indicators. The technique is simple - using an unfolded paper clip as an armature, then glue clump foliage to it to build up the cloud of smoke. Once it's been built to what you want drip superglue onto it (outside or well-ventilated area of course) to make it solid. Then spray it back and then paint it the desired colour.

I used the same technique to make water splashes for naval wargames. but they could easily be explosions in a small scale like 1/300 or 15mm.
These were undercoated grey and dry brushed in various shades of white. They're very durable, I made these four years ago and they are all solid. I am about to use the same idea to make some 15mm scale hedges.
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steve_pickstock  England
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20 Jun 2010, 19:56

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