Abstract Particles of titanium and zirconium in the size range of 2–25μm are ignited while passing through a CO2 laser beam and their combustion is monitored optically. Prior to ignition, particles pass through a low-power auxiliary laser beam so that the diameter of each ignited particle is measured in situ based on the amplitude of the scattered light pulse. The particles of both Ti and Zr are observed to exhibit micro explosions, similar to those observed for larger size particles of these metals. Particle emission traces are recorded, and a data processing routine is established for discounting emission signals produced by unignited particles and particles partially combusted within the CO2 laser beam. Burn times and combustion temperatures are measured and compared to earlier measurements for coarser particles of the same metals. For both metals, average combustion temperatures implied by the emission spectra are very close to their respective adiabatic flame temperatures. For both metals, for the particle size range considered, particle combustion temperatures do not depend on the particle size. The particle burn times were found to be only weak functions of the particle size; burn times for Zr are shorter and temperatures are higher compared to the similarly sized Ti particles.