Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Rolling with Fire

Thinking about fire for my previous post conjured up some fond memories. I have much experience with fire, most of it good, some of it a little loopy.

I will not go into great detail about a camping trip one summer, where a blaze and 2 pay-loader tires were involved. Suffice it to say that a minor eco-catastrophe was in the making. That same summer, we tested physics and warnings. Basically, my cousin, Gus, his cousins, Chris and Nolan, and I, had lots of fun.

(*if you have kids, don’t let them read this blog entry*)

One such experiment consisted of heating up water in the campfire to make bottles pop. We gathered wine bottles from the local dump and filled them by about ½ and plugged them with a cork. Then we placed the bottle in a strategic spot in the fire with the cork pointed in a relatively safe direction. Eventually, the bottle cracked or exploded.

Learning from our trial, we then gingerly installed the cork, as opposed to jamming it in. This yielded much better results but heating the water would take way too long for our young patience. We decided on much less water, and ran a few trials in this manner. As it turns out, superheated steam makes for some serious distance. We must have blown up some twenty wine bottles before we found a nondescript “Habitant” bottle, probably containing some sort of sauce at inception. This test-bed yielded much better results with super-heated steam and was able to send the cork some 20 to 30 yards! This bottle eventually cracked as well, but only after serving us at least ½ dozen times. This concluded our steam driven tests, since we’d run out of bottles.

We moved on to aerosol cans.

(*if you have kids, you really, really don’t want them to read this blog entry*)

Aerosol cans have a specific warning against fire and open flame. The second series of tests were then designed to validate this claim and it’s effects: in other words, we threw the cans in, hoping something nasty was going to happen.

On one occasion, at which I was not present, about a ½ dozen cans were thrown into the fire. The cans then proceeded to attack my uncle. One by one they flew towards him at great velocity as he dodged each one in earnest. Hopped on one foot then the other, raised an arm and generally executed manoeuvres worthy of the Matrix. My uncle survived this onslaught with great aplomb. Mind you, this is the same guy who would piss lighter fluid directly from the can into a campfire, marvelling as the flame would crawl back up the jet almost entering the canister as it did so. It was then decreed that no more than 2 to 3 cans were to be commissioned to the fire at any given time.

Luckily this directive was issued before I showed up, since we’d found well over a dozen spray cans of all types. Two cans turned out to be particularly useful, one was a rusted container of Off – insect repellent – and the other was a fairly new can of Raid – house and garden bug killer. The spray nozzle of the Raid had been broken off but it wasn’t quite empty. The explosions weren’t altogether spectacular, but there wasn’t a bug to be found anywhere near the campfire for several days afterwards. Normally, we’d have been swamped with mosquitoes as soon as the sun went down. This was a welcome reprieve and we searched the dump for more of these wonderful products.

The other containers yielded mitigated results. We were proscribed from using any cans containing any kind of fuel, which somewhat dampened our spirits. This may have been a good thing in retrospect. There was one entry into the fire that gave us a bit of a start.

The product was Spray and Vac, a carpet cleaner. The entire spray nozzle including the depressor into the bottle had been broken off, so we held little hope for adventure on this container. Dutifully we threw it into the fire along with 2 other cans. And nothing happened. The other cans simply broke open with no explosion. We spied the Spray and Vac, but it didn’t seem to be doing anything worthy. After several minutes, we declared that the Spray and Vac had no pressure left in it, or the hole in the top was letting pressure escape. We decided to move on to our next three selections.

Then the Spray and Vac came to life. An almighty bang was heard, taking us a little by surprise and delight. I suspect chemistry from the aerosol had caught fire and the embers from the fire itself were thrown maybe 20 to 30 feet into the air. It was now raining fire and red embers. Chris was closest to the campfire and was almost sprayed straight up, the rest of us ran for cover, diving under picnic tables or running out of the fire radius.

The tents were far afield of the fire so they wouldn’t catch. As I think about it now, our parents, knowing we’d be up to no good, may have planned this distance from camp to fire. I’ll have to ask. Anyway, it was all very exciting for a few minutes as the burning embers drifted slowly towards the ground.

Exclamations of delight and congratulations, large pats on the back and instant reminiscing were the order of the day. Camaraderie was as tight as ever. As our adrenaline-fuelled energy wound down, someone noticed the far side of the pile of wood near the campfire was smoking. We ran over ourselves to investigate.

This pile of old wood had been brought by the uncle’s pay-loader. It was three to four feet – 1 to 1.5 metres - high and ten to twelve feet – 3 to 4 metres - long at the base. It had been dumped some 15 feet away from the campfire so as to be easy to throw wood directly from the pile unto the fire. And now, it was on fire itself.

We thought about this for a second, and in a haze of panic, we realized that this pile would burn for days. Not only that, but it would make an almighty bonfire which we would not be able to approach, nor control, for these several days. This simply would not do. We started digging away at the pile with our bare hands to get to the fire, or at least reduce the potential damage. Luckily, the core of the woodpile was sodden and the fire hadn’t spread deep into the pile. It was easy enough to kick away the burning logs and throw sand upon the mess to stop the fire.

We took a break from the aerosol cans for a few days.


Anonymous Cookie said...

Now I understand a bit why my 23-year-old son and his older friends had so much fun a few weekends ago blasting pure innocent tomatoes to bit by inserting a fire cracker in them and lighting them up. The greater the spray, the happier the laughter. My daughter and I were watching this, HIGHLY bemused with the behaviour of these grown men. Actually, I think we should all keep some of the child in us!!

November 05, 2005 1:14 p.m.  

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