First of all, there is no gimmick to firewalking. It is not like a firewalker soaks his feet in water before going across the coals. And it is not like some extreme sweat reaction happens and his feet are suddenly soaked in sweat. His bare feet really do touch the red-hot coals.
What makes this possible is a combination of factors that play on certain qualities of the coals themselves...
Think about this. Let's say you took a 10-foot long iron plate and heated it up red-hot with blow torches. Now you walk across that. What would happen?
Walking across a red-hot metal plate would be insane. Think about a hamburger when it hits a hot iron skillet. Bare feet on red-hot metal would give you third-degree burns in milliseconds.
There are a couple of things to notice about any firewalking event:
- Firewalkers are not actually firewalkers. They are really coalwalkers. The fire is lit well ahead of time to allow the wood to burn down to non-flaming coals.
- The event is always held at night. If it were done during daylight, the bed of coals would look instead like a bed of ashes. There is always a layer of ash covering the coals. By doing it at night, the glowing red light is still visible through this layer of ash. Photo courtesy The Florida Pagan Gathering The hot coals are covered with a layer of ash.
- The firewalker never dawdles. Now, no self-respecting firewalker would run across the coals -- that would be undignified. But firewalkers certainly are walking briskly. You never see firewalkers standing on the coals.
So what is going on here? Firewalking depends on a combination of poor conduction, insulation and a short time span.