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The Idea
I'm creating a planet where rain is small drops of fire, and anything in its way will be burnt. (No idea how this happens, and the technicalities don't bother me, either)
Every night the wind blows in dust, which covers everything in a thin layer. Anything that is covered by this dust is protected from the fire rain.
The dust doesn't stick to the ashes of anything that was already burnt by the rain.
Unless there's wind that moves the dust, or something becomes exposed midday that wasn't exposed overnight, I figure that most of the outdoor world - from trees to houses to roads - would be safe from the rain.

Points of Interest
My main concern is the people on this planet. If someone is walking outside and it starts raining, unless they have somewhere to run, and a way to extinguish whatever fire may have already started on their clothing from the drops, I'm not sure they have much of a chance of survival.
There is no electricity, most of the world is green, full of forests and trees, and communities all small and sparsely spread out. (Unless for some reason this wouldn't work under such circumstances)

The Question
Could people live like this? How many would still be alive, after hundreds of years on this planet? What measures could they take to protect themselves?
I am aware that this question is very general and could be taken in any direction - from living deep underground to creating shields made out of dust. More than anything else, I'm interested in hearing if life with this rain is realistic. I'm also interested in hearing ideas on how to overcome the struggle of the rain and what measures could be taken against it.
A question that seemed similar but didn't quite answer my question for various reasons: How to survive a 24 hours of heavy lava rain?

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    $\begingroup$ If the trees are covered in dust, how do they photosynthesize? $\endgroup$ Mar 2 at 21:07
  • $\begingroup$ Hmmm good question. Didn't think of that... Honestly, the details of how the nature world works bother me less. I'm sort of taking the idea section as fact and trying to make sense of everything from there. Like, no idea how it works. It does, so I won't touch it. Now what about everything else? $\endgroup$
    – user613
    Mar 2 at 21:25
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    $\begingroup$ Well, isn't it somewhat important? What do the people eat? Can there be any non-burrowing animals? What fumes are released by the burning droplets? Will a torrential fire-rainstorm just cook everything through radiant heat? (probably!) Can you get local oxygen depletion that can cause asphyxia? I mean, maybe you don't care about any of these things, but without knowing the list of things you don't care about, forming an answer is tricky. I'm not going to downvote or VTS, but you might wanna think about some of this stuff. $\endgroup$ Mar 2 at 21:32
  • $\begingroup$ One last thing, @User613. You've misused the reality-check tag. It's a common failure because people don't bother reading the tag wikis and jump to conclusions about what a tag does based only on its name. It is NOT for the purpose of asking, "is X realistic?" Curiously, the shortest-and-sweetest summary of the tag comes from the help center, "Reality Check: Provide the relevant details of your world and a situation and we will make sure it remains internally consistent." Which is not what you did. For these reasons, I removed the tag. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Mar 3 at 14:46
  • $\begingroup$ Looks like you're describing Dragonriders of Pern, by Anne McCaffrey. Although in that case, the rain is not literally made of fire, but "a mycorrhizoid spore that voraciously consumes all organic material, including humans and their crops". $\endgroup$
    – Stef
    Mar 3 at 15:27

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Who cares if it's realistic. Reality is boring, which is why fiction exists. How could people live?

  • Your plants have evolved to withstand the fire. There are forests on Earth that expect periodic forest fires to cause seed germination. So you have a precedent if you're worried about "realism." If you don't like them being that fire resistant, make long-term growth (like trees) have bark that's fire resistant and have short-term growth (like flowers) have a super-fast growing period so when the fire hits, the world recovers. Their seeds use the energy from the fire to germinate.

  • Your animals have evolved to avoid the rain! They favor digging burrows with the animal kingdom's version of a sewage P-Trap and a secondary tunnel to keep the air from being consumed while the water burns itself out in the P-Trap. Larger animals might be less abundant, but they'll favor caves or learn to build large versions of upside-down bird nests to keep the rain out (something akin to Beaver dams). Or they have super-dense fur with a non-combustible oil that allows the water to flow off so no burn is felt by the animal. Heck, if birds can survive -20 degree winters (they're outside my window!) then it's believable they can survive the burning rain until it rolls off their penguinesque feathers.

  • Your humans learned how to adapt that animal fur to create (for lack of a better term) rain coats. They may look a bit like Fremen Stilsuits, but the point is to allow them to walk around in the rain. And they can always keep an eye on the animals, who would have developed a fine sense of knowing when the rain is coming. And their houses may favor sod, adobe, or stone (stone and clay shingles exist!) to keep their houses dry (if not cool).

So, I think your story is not only cool, but well within suspension-of-disbelief. And on this site, keep in mind that most of the time what you should be looking for is suspension of disbelief... not "realistic." Just my opinion.

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  • $\begingroup$ You start by saying "Who cares if it's realistic?", but your bullet points make an effort to provide explanations based on the real world. Maybe your point that "most of the time what you should be looking for is suspension of disbelief" should be the focus. $\endgroup$ Mar 3 at 13:58
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    $\begingroup$ @TheRubberDuck Using the Real World to demonstrate that an idea can achieve suspension of disbelief is the backbone of this site. When people ask for "realistic" they're almost always asking for "scientifically bullet-proof." Worse, it causes our users to get into the habit of thinking that an answer is only viable if the answer really is scientifically bullet-proof. Frankly, if the worst thing you have to complain about my answer is that I whined about the OP's use of the word "realistic," I did OK. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Mar 3 at 14:44
  • $\begingroup$ I just think the idea in your last paragraph would be a better opener than a closer. The comment wasn't a "complaint" that you need to defend against. Particularly, based on "Using the Real World to demonstrate that an idea can achieve suspension of disbelief is the backbone of this site," it seems we're in agreement "that 'most of the time what you should be looking for is suspension of disbelief' should be the focus". But it's not currently the focus; it's an afterthought. $\endgroup$ Mar 4 at 14:18
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Make it so

You are unbothered by the premise that every day it rains fire. We are encouraged to let that be. What about the rest?

The rest is your story. This approach reminds me of midcentury absurdism, or Kafka's Metamorphosis. There is nothing in the story about how or why he became a big beetle. He just did, ok. Then the rest of the story is about what comes next. The central premise is not examined.

In some ways this is like zombie fiction. Zombies, yes, yes. They do not bear rigorous examination, the zombies. The zombie apocalypse is a contrived scenario within which one can tell human tales: suffering, triumph, good and evil. Zombies are just context.

So too your rain of fire. It rains fire. Why would someone go out in it? Did they forget? Do they wrap their lives around the fire, like the characters work around the monsters in Bird Box? Do they ignore the fire and then run afoul of it over and over, never learning?

Your rain of fire might be a metaphor. There are some societal issues one cannot mention, even in a WB stack answer, because some people are wound so tight and so set in their beliefs they will immediately downvote. But you could rename such an issue "rain of fire" and then explore it at your leisure because the zealots are concrete thinkers and they will never catch on. Some people will, and they might think.

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    $\begingroup$ I can't see another answer. Given a) magic fire rain without explanation; b) magic dust-that-protects-from-fire-rain-and-does-not-block-sunlight; and c) no actual water rain to sustain all that green life (since all rain is fire) the only conclusion is that it's all unexplained magic for authorial reasons. $\endgroup$ Mar 2 at 23:33
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Life uh, finds a way. This planet is not Earth and it seems that this rain isn't a "just happened now" thing. If it is life is screwed, so let's assume it isn't.

If there is life on this planet at all then it has evolved to survive the fire rain - that's what evolution is, after all. I can imagine many ways this is possible. For one, perhaps life has evolved to cover itself in large sacks of water-filled vesicles that are replenished from groundwater and are sacrificial. This is a huge metabolic problem (it takes a lot of energy) so life that lives on the surface is almost surely going to be either very small or very good at pumping lots of water into itself.

Animals evolved underground and stayed there for the most part. Those that came up have ways to deal with the fire rain. Either they can very rapidly burrow when the rain comes or they themselves are able to withstand the fire. I can imagine a few ways this happens: there are so many, and they are so small, they they just die but enough get missed by the raindrops that they survive. Or they can just handle the heat - some extremophiles on Earth can do that, but I don't know about anything big. Finally, they grow scales or something that can handle the heat for some time. We have some evidence of species on Earth using metalic salts in their exoskeletons, so perhaps these creatures also evolved something similar. Perhaps they eat asbestos...

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Yes, this is realistic

According to your alternate-reality tag, you have defined new climate systems. Things that don’t stay still and get covered in dust, will get burnt. It sounds like you’ve got everything … covered?

But this is really as far as a world building consultation can take you since you are the master of this domain. You may want to continue with a new question and reality-check a solution to your world, such as the decision to exist in caves (that would be realistic, except they have no electricity so I don’t know how they would function).

As a suggestion, while I am here:

Raincoats?

You have a fireproof material (the dust), so glue that onto a raincoat.

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Does it ever rain water? If no, then you may need just a brief explanation for the water cycle. One possibility - evaporated water, instead of going high into the atmosphere to form clouds, stays relatively low as mist, while the higher levels are dominated by the clouds that rain fire. Fog, mist and dew could all be part of the environmental protections against everything burning to the ground, alongside the dust and some gentle evolution.

On the topic of evolution; A lot of plants and animals on earth show adaptations to wildfires, and might be fun to play around with. The cones of many pine and spruce trees, for example, are designed specifically to open up under high heat, revealing their seeds only after a fire has cleared ground for a new tree to grow. So, a lot of cones and hard nuts, a lot of birds and burrowing animals (flight and digging being common adaptations for avoiding fires) who eat cones and hard nuts and each other.

As far as human adaptations are concerned, the possibilities are endless. Trying to predict and even manipulate the weather has always been a part of human civilization, and could be neatly nestled into a world like you've described. Soothesayers and what not would try to tell when and where the rains would occur, tanners and tailors would learn how to use dust in the construction of clothes with varying success, and probably everyone would know the best ways to put out a fire.

On a larger scale, if we're talking about the move from neolithic people to early civilization, I don't think rains of fire would stop people from creating cities. It might stop them from ever getting much further along with their cities than certain developmental eras, but that could be in your favor as a storyteller.

Again, the water cycle is central. If it ever rains rain, human agriculture is probably more or less the same, though regularly interrupted. If we're talking about fog and mist instead, humanity's core crops will be affected - probably a focus on rice, or something similar? The whole idea of submerged farming, like you see in rice paddies, seems to work well with the concept of fire falling from the sky. Maybe even coastal societies that survive mostly on fish and seaweed, who I imagine are largely unaffected by the fire rain.

Either way, I think that the overall concept does feel realistic enough for an audience to go along with it. As long as we know what's happening with the water, rains of fire aren't a bridge too far.

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