It was the fall semester of my senior year at college. I wanted to light a candle and asked to borrow my suitemate’s zippo lighter. My candle was encased in a glass jar, and its wick was buried deep inside since I had used it frequently. Even holding the candle upside-down, the lighter’s flame barely reached the wick.
I had a bright idea. There were lots of old newspapers lying around my room. I would simply tear out a section, roll it into a tube, light the tube, and use the tube to light the wick. Unfortunately, I underestimated how fast newspapers burn. Feeling the flames from the lit newspaper roll biting at my fingers, I dropped the tube…into a trash can filled with more old newspapers.
Needless to say, the whole thing lit up faster than a Woodstock audience on 4/20. The newspapers were arranged in way that the flame could get all the oxygen it needed to grow. What started as a fire contained inside the trash can grew to 3 feet in 5 seconds. “This is bad,” I thought. It didn’t help that the trash can had mesh sides that fed even more oxygen to the flame which was now 4 feet tall.
Hearing expletives, my suitemate ran out of his room. He looked at the fire, then at me. I had been staring dumbly at the fire for a good 15 seconds. I simply didn’t know what to do. When I snapped out of it, I grabbed the nearest object, my suitemate’s cushion, and started beating the flame – which did absolutely nothing.
At this point, a friend whom I’d invited over to study for a final exam, had walked into the room. “Oh, hi Chris. Don’t mind the bonfire. Heater wasn’t working.”
Chris was much more rational than I was. He actually brought a fire extinguisher, but not until after my suitemate poured an entire jug of water into the trash can. We opened the windows, wiped the soot off the walls, and wondered whether it was a good thing that all of the smoke detectors in our suite remained silent.