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Setting yourself on fire

Yes, I know.. It is not very hard to set yourself on fire - all it takes is a match and something that burns easily. However, that's not what this node is about.

How to set yourself on fire, and live to tell the tale.

Most people have gotten burned one or more times in their lives - and because of this, they fear fire. If you want to be a pyrotechnician, respecting fire is a good idea. Being afraid is not. However, because most people have this inherent fear of fire, this makes your job a lot easier - relatively undangerous tricks can look immensely scary.

How to set your hand on fire

Go to a drugstore / pharmacy and get a liquid that's called Heptane. This is basically the same as gasoline, but it is used for cleaning wounds, and is therefore medically cleansed. When you do buy the bottle of heptane, make sure you never, ever use it for breathing fire.

Anyway. Take a juggling torch (or something else that absorbs liquid) and pour some heptane on it. you don't need a lot, cause this stuff burns very well. Now, light your torch.

Just after you have lighted the torch, touch it on the top of the palm of your hand, and remove the torch. Be amazed - your hand is on fire. If your hand starts feeling hot, just close it, and the flames are gone. Easy, wasn't it?

How to set your arm on fire

Setting your arm on fire is the natural progression from the trick described above, with the exception that you are unable to "close" your arm to put the fire out. This is a bit of a disadvantage, but it doesn't matter.

Extend your arm straight out. "Brush" your arm with your burning torch, and remove the torch. Your arm should now have a cute tongue of flames all along where you brushed the torch. This will result in filling most people with the deepest respect for you (hehe.. They should only know how easy it is). Pretend that it hurts - it gets the audience happier.

So what's the trick? Keep moving your arm downwards. The trick with Heptane is that it isn't actually the fluid that burns - it is the gas that comes up from the evaporating fluid. Your arm might get a little warm, but you should not get burned. As long as you keep moving your arm downward ever so slightly, you can actually walk about without noticing your arm is on fire.

How to set your head on fire

... Don't. Well.. Not your whole head anyway - but setting your hair on fire can't harm. The best hair-length for use in shows is about an inch to an inch and a half. If you have longer hair, you could try too, but be aware that you will probably not be able to control the flames, which could lead to a lot of pain.

Anyway. When setting your hair on fire, it should be damp - not necessarily because that is going to save you, but because it stops all of your hair from burning at the same time. You want the flame to burn for a while - for maximum effect. Also, be aware that burning hair smells BAD.. This is really an outdoor trick only. Make sure not all your hair burns away, because your scalp is probably not fireproof (mine isn't)

The trick: Well, there really is no trick. Move the torch over your head, and your hair should start burning. If you feel brave, you can have a friend breathe fire using your head as a match (this is dangerous - only do this with people who know exactly what they are doing when breathing fire)

When setting your head on fire, have somebody stand by with a very large and very wet bath towel. Make a deal to do something special (a hand movement, a special word, whatever) so that if you need help, that they run on stage and put you out. Yes, it looks ridiculous, but it's better to be safe than sorry

How to set your whole body on fire

This I will not describe, in case somebody decides to try it. If you are curious, send me a message. The process involves an asbestos suit, lots of special flame retardant and cooling chemicals, extra oxygen tanks and lots of fire extinguishers. In other words: No toy.

Words of warning

I am a pyrotechnician, and chances are that you are not. This means that I have been through courses that have prepared me for doing stunts with fire and explosions, and I know how to deal with them in a matter then ensures that nobody dies (well.. There is a good chance nobody dies).

I do not want anybody to get hurt, harmed or otherwise damaged. Fire *is* dangerous, and should be treated with respect. If you have any questions, feel free to /msg me to ask, but I do not take any responsibility for your actions. Be careful.


Back to the node on pyrotechnics
Please read the disclaimer. Also, make sure you have read the Pyrotechnics safety tips.
SAFETY FIRST

How to set yourself on fire

or, more accurately

How not to set yourself on fire

When I began writing this, I didn't realise E2 possessed such sage advice on safely immolating oneself. Consider this a complementary cautionary tale to remind you why safety really should come first. Apart from losing all the hairs on my left hand (they grew back) I suffered no long-term physical harm from this experience, but I could easily have done so.

So one day, when I was young and stupid, I had a really dumb idea. Technically, I had a great deal of dumb ideas when I was young and stupid, but most of the scars have faded by. Anyway, although it wasn't my intention, I ended up doing something quite like freshmint's writeup in How to make a flame appear from your hand. This is not, in fact, a good thing. Do not do this. Under any circumstances. Fire is not your friend, even if you're a creepy teenaged pyro with a mullet and a denim jacket.

So I says to myself, "Self," I says, "gasoline is a liquid, right? And a flamethrower is kinda like a squirt gun that shoots gas and lights it, right?"

You can see where this is going.

"So why can't I get a cheap squirt gun at the dollar store, fill it with gas and shoot fire at stuff?"

Those of you possessing any knowledge of the chemical properties of gasoline and the way it reacts to plastic -- or, for that matter, an ounce of common sense -- can now dismiss me as an idiot well on the way to autodarwination.

Actually, everything went great for a while (apart from the smell), and I ran around a piece of forest near my house shooting fire at things. My deep, inner adolescent desire to burn random stuff was sated, and all was well in the world. I didn't even start an uncontrollable wildfire that decimated the neighbourhood.

Eventually, the gas didn't squirt out so good anymore. The gasoline was melting the plastic of the squirtgun, as gasoline is wont to do. "Oh well," I thought. "It's not like I was going to keep it or anything."

I'm not sure if I was getting high on the ability to shoot jets of fire at stuff or just getting high on the gas fumes, or perhaps just really dumb, but I failed to realise that the gas was probably also melting other parts of my improvised immolator.

Soon afterwards, the tip of the water gun caught on fire. "Oh shit," I reflected. "That isn't supposed to happen." I blew out the fire, and continued. This was the second point at which a reasonable person would have twigged that something here was horribly, horribly wrong.

I was undeterred, filled as I was with the same special suicidally wreckless pyromaniacal gusto that motivated me to nearly blow my nuts off like Frank Zappa, except with model rocket engines instead of shells.

Soon enough, the moment I know you've all been waiting for arrived. The gun was really not squirting very well at all anymore, probably because the trigger mechanism was leaking all over my left hand. Predictably, what with the gun now completely covered in gasoline and me holding a fucking lighter directly in front of it like the smacktard I was, the gun caught on fire again. The following is an approximate account of my thoughts over the next few seconds, expanded and explicated for your sadistic viewing pleasure1:

Oh well, I will simply blow out this small flame, as I did the previous one.

Oh, the whole device is on fire. Well, I guess I'd better drop it quick, before I get hurt. Fire is dangerous!2

Funny, I have dropped the gun, and yet there is still fire on my SWEET HEMMORHAGING FUCK MY HAND IS ON FIRE FUCK FUCK FUCK HOLY JUMPING MONKEY JESUS.

Luckily my greasy denim jacket was not so greasy that I burst into flames entirely when I smothered my hand in the sleeve. My hand smelled like gas for a week afterward, though.

So to sum up, homemade flamethrower: bad idea, fire: scary, Johnny: stupid, safety: good


1 Really, come on. The amount of satisfaction you are deriving from my petrochemical peril is sick. Get help.
2 Yes, this is the first point in this whole episode that this occured to me.

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