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
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
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.
Lighter fluid stack of old newspapers fire conducive mesh trash can = 4ft high flames