Ok, so I'm willing to bet at least one person has looked at the title of this question and thought to themselves "What?", so I'll try and explain this as thoroughly as I can.

Most incarnations of Pyrokinesis I've seen in fiction often deal with either telekinetically starting fires by exciting the flammable properties within the objects around them, or just straight up creating and releasing fire from within a person's body (the science behind this particular incarnation of the ability often varies from each piece of work). Some pyrokinetic people in fiction however, are capable of moving and shaping fires that are around them, sorta like how Aerokinesis lets you move air/wind and apply a shape to it.

Since fire is nothing but the result of a flammable material/substance getting exposed to oxygen and heat, this got me thinking. What are pyrokinetic people actually moving when they use their powers? Calling it fire seems inaccurate seeing as how fire itself lacks weight, cannot exist without certain requirements, and is treated less like a 'thing' but more so a chemical reaction. My understanding on science is how you say "Painfully mediocre", so I wonder if any of you guys and girls could help me out?

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    $\begingroup$ Fire has weight, fire is a plasma and plasma has mass. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Mar 20, 2021 at 20:47
  • $\begingroup$ So... are you trying to move some fire out of a datacenter? $\endgroup$
    – Ángel
    Mar 21, 2021 at 21:08

4 Answers 4


Let's begin with one of the best explanations for making fire by magic I've ever heard: vibrating molecules.

What you need is a basic combat spell, making fire. What causes molecules to heat up? They vibrate. Everything you see is in a constant state of vibration, thus the illusion of solidity. But how do we take that which appears solid and have it burst into flames? We will the vibrations to go faster.... (The Sorcerer's Apprentice (2010))

People think fire is an element. But from one point of view, it's no more an element than ice. Oversimplifying to the point of making angels weep, it's nothing more than another state of matter: plasma. That's why that previous quote is so fun: your pyrokinetics are actually creating and manipulating plasma. In other words, they're not manipulating fire, they're causing atoms and molecules to vibrate to force them into a plasmatic state.

It's the other point of view (the more common one) that's a problem. You see, Flame may contain plasma, but it isn't plasma.

An everyday wax candle has a flame that burns at a maximum temperature of 1,500 degrees Celsius, which is too low to create very many ions. A candle flame is therefore not a plasma. Note that the vibrant red-orange-yellow colors that we see in a flame are not created from the flame being a plasma. Rather, these colors are emitted by incompletely-burnt particles of fuel ("soot") that are so hot that they are glowing like an electric toaster element. If you pump enough oxygen into a flame, the combustion becomes complete and the red-orange-yellow flame goes away. ("Do flames contain plasma?")

This is the problem with the idea of a pyrokinetic "moving" flame. Most flame is simply inefficient combustion, and the odds are the combustive process will complete long before you can move it anywhere. Oxygen depletes, as does the fuel source. That's why the plasma definition is so much more interesting — because in the case of combustion, your character isn't really a pyrokinetic, they're just a telekinetic that happens to be moving around the proverbial burning stick.

What you have is a multi-talented character

A true pyrokinetic must have two abilities: the ability to convert some substance into its plasmatic state and the subsequent ability to move that material around. For my money, moving something around is a bit unrealistic. Think about it, you're connecting with how many bazillion atoms to move them around?

What makes more sense is that you can encapsulate a region of space. Let's say a sphere 100cm in diameter. It's the sphere that's being moved — not the material inside of it — and it's the contents of the sphere that can be caused to vibrate with such venom as to become a plasma.

Shaping the "fire" is nothing more than learning how to shape the encapsulating sphere.

However, the consequence of this explanation is that the sphere must, by definition, not allow the heat of the plasma to escape. It's encapsulating everything (otherwise you couldn't contain or shape it in the first place). This means that to burn something the pyrokinetic must free (un-encapsulate) the mass he/she is manipulating. If this isn't done, what you have is the equivalent of a really cool looking dodge ball.

However, to be fair, something is escaping... light (otherwise the effect is a black sphere and that's boring). If light can escape, then for practical purposes, so can other frequencies in the electromagnetic spectrum. Not heat, just light. But this has an interesting consequence. If you heat a plasma up enough, the intensity of the light could burn things. However, we'd need someone better schooled in plasma physics to confirm this.

  • $\begingroup$ en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heat_transfer#Radiation $\endgroup$
    – wizzwizz4
    Mar 21, 2021 at 12:45
  • $\begingroup$ @wizzwizz4 I thought of that, it's black body radiation transfer, but I found a number of references online indicating that it's inapplicable. I suppose it really depends on how the OP defines the use of the sphere. If they allow heat to escape, it does. If they don't, it doesn't. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Mar 21, 2021 at 15:05
  • $\begingroup$ That's confusing; I don't see why this wouldn't be applicable. Just take the power released, the heat capacity and absorptivity of what you want to burn, and how much heat is lost to the air, and solve the differential equation. $\endgroup$
    – wizzwizz4
    Mar 21, 2021 at 15:26
  • $\begingroup$ @wizzwizz4, I apologize, I banged that out before I had to step out the door so it wasn't clear. Thermal radiation is nothing more than the energy of the photon absorbed into the target as heat. E.G., a sunburn. My answer already states that ("...the intensity of the light could burn things..."). But that's different from thermal conductivity, which is not electromagnetic. The light emitted from a candle cannot burn anything. It's not bright enough. A candle can only burn something when the combustion (thermal conductivity) is brought into contact with the target. That's a choice for the OP. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Mar 21, 2021 at 18:32
  • $\begingroup$ @wizzwizz4 Short comments... when the combustion is brought into contact or close contact with the target. That's because the combustion heats nearby materials (usually atmosphere) and that thermal transfer can be hot enough to burn something. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Mar 21, 2021 at 18:33

Moving a match

How do you normally move fire? You might shape the fire with funnels or wind, but the starting point is always the same. The flammable material. If you want to move the fire of a match, you move the match. Moving the match moves the flammable material, which in turn moves the origin point of the flame.

With telekinesis you want to move the flammable material as well, be it oil fumes or burning wood. Shaping of flame can be done afterwards with wind and funnels, which is basically pressure the flame cannot overcome. Telekinesis can so this as well while mindful of the limitations of the flame, like reach, starting point and duration.

  • $\begingroup$ Trioxidane - So... fire elementals are basically moving and shaping hot gases essentially? $\endgroup$ Mar 20, 2021 at 21:05
  • $\begingroup$ Unless the magic system allows the ignition of qi or some other 'magical energy' the pyromancer either possesses or has access to, where they could then move and 'shape' the fire by the manipulation of the burning energy. $\endgroup$ Mar 20, 2021 at 23:09
  • $\begingroup$ @CrystalKing I've got to go with this, it was close to what I was going to say. I'd add that telekinesis can allow you to channel whatever energy you have access to for telekinesis into molecular heating. Causing heat would require the least skill and strength from a telekinetic, so if you lacked the skill to move matter in a coordinated fashion, you might still be able to cause an object to get hotter and hotter until it combusted, since heat is really non-directional molecular motion and vibration. Flaming gasses might be really easy to move since they are light and full of energy. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Mar 21, 2021 at 1:33

This is the type of insightful deliberation that totally kills fantasy. There is a reason why it is called 'fantasy'. It just has to be something you do not think about or subject to intense scrutiny. Better to just leave it as, well, fantasy.

You are absolutely correct in bringing our attention to the reality that 'fire' is a very nebulous term. It is a concept. Really, no one has ever been injured by 'fire', they are injured by either the intense heat, or the toxic components of combustion, or the combustion (chemical reaction) itself. Firefighters are trained to and learn to ignore the 'fire', but concentrate on the individual very real dangers. That 'flame' will not injure you, but the heat, the smoke, the weakened floor, and lack of oxygen will. Any 'manipulation of fire' would, in essence, be the manipulation of one or more of these factors, not the 'fire' itself.

As you point out, what we call 'fire' is really just a perceptual, conceptual thing, not a physical thing. It only occurs in our mind. What exists in reality is the heat, the radiation, the products of combustion, and the results of combustion (the destruction of the fuel as it changes its chemistry). These things we conceptually all lump together and label as something called 'fire', and then put an emotional tag of 'bad and dangerous' to it. Once labeled and tagged, our minds have the distinct ability to handle it as a concept, and respond to the emotional tag. Thereafter the concept can be manipulated and altered, without needing to reference the underlying reality of the 'things' that actually make up the concept, and we continue to apply the emotional tag to the manipulated concept. We treat the concept, and the emotional tag, as a separate entity from all of its parts. The 'whole' still exists even if none of its parts continue to exist. We become afraid of the tag, the label, not the reality. Long after there is no danger from the reality of the components of this concept we call 'fire', we are still in fear of the concept called 'fire'. The word itself takes on a reality of its own.

It's like talking about the hazards of 'falling'. There is no such thing as a fall. Everything is 'falling'. There is absolutely no danger in a fall, per say. It is the sudden stop at the end that creates the damage. Yet we still fear the fall, not the sudden stop at the end. Even in amusement park rides, when the danger of any sudden stop is removed, we still fear the fall.

Like saying 'I don't like vegetables', as if the label were a real thing. As the commercial infers, say 'fries are vegetables', and suddenly you do not like them.

Fantasy is really all about these labels and tags that our mind forms and creates, and our emotional reaction to these tags, not the reality behind them.

So render unto fantasy what is fantasy, and onto reality what is reality. Never conflict the two. Humans tend to like their emotional tags, thank you very much.


What is fire? Fire happens normally when objects oxidize quickly, but in the case of pyrokinesis / telekinesis of fire, in my mind, there is an implication of the ability of the caster to facilitate the transfer of energy between molecules. Therefore, when someone is "telekinetically moving/shaping fire," they are transferring energy from the particles in one region of space to the particles in another region of space. So similar to what @DWKraus says in their comment, telekinesis of fire should allow the user to move energy to cause molecular heating.

However, I think generalizing it in this way has its benefits, and can potentially take the idea of moving/shaping fire to the next level. What happens, for example, when energy is concentrated in a certain location? Since kinetic energy actually has mass (and since mass and energy are equivalent by E=mc^2), moving/shaping fire could even be the basis for abilities that control mass or gravity, or even slow and alter the movement of time, given the connection that gravity has to time. Makes the ability a lot more interesting to think of it this way, but that's just my 2 cents


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