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Deck Fire

Jerry Simon

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We just moved last year and now have a wood deck for the first time. Our HO Assoc does not allow fire pits, barbeques, or the like on or near the decks (and the forest preserve is just a few feet from the deck; so, no real fires).

My wife likes fires, though, so she bought some of those fake electric outdoor fire-logs. They look neat. Went out to the deck this morning, though, and smoke was coming up from under the log area. Electrical fire, right? Nope.

Beginning of summer my wife put up a landscaping thingy with some sort of glass reflector disc next to the deck. Sure enough, months later, today the sun was at just the right angle, and just like when we were 10 years old using our magnifying glasses to start pieces of paper on fire, the dang glass disc used the sun and set our deck on fire. Looked like a frickin' laser beam it was so bright.

Kind of weird to go out on the deck for morning coffee and wonder what idiot neighbor is burning stuff outside. That said, thank gosh for morning coffee; we coulda easily lost our home.

One more thing to keep in mind when inspecting a house/deck, at least per moi.

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The gnomes did it. I knew they couldn't be trusted.

Here's one not mentioned yet.

Drano in a coke bottle, add a strip of Al foil, you got H gas.

Trap that with a metal funnel and a big balloon, (very hot bottle!) add a TP wick, you got a floating fireball! [:0]

That takes me back to 1987.

I was the tech director a the Berkeley Rep Scene Shop. It was a large warehouse in the industrial section of town. (The building had previously served at the rehearsal space for Creedence Clearwater Revival and we regularly got fan mail, but I digress.) We cleaned our saw blades by mixing a walnut-sized lump of Red Devil lye with a little water and placing the lye mixture and sawblades in small steel baking pans. It's a great way to clean the sawblades.

One day, one of our carpenters decided to clean a single small saw blade in an aluminum pie plate instead. When the lye immediately dissolved the pie plate, our welder observed that lye and aluminum do not mix well and, in fact, give off flammable hydrogen gas. That was all the other guys needed to hear. Pretty soon, they had a 2-liter coke bottle filled with lye and were stuffing aluminum foil into it. After experimenting with several ways to collect the gas, they settled on a 40-gallon trash bag, which made, in effect a big hot-air balloon, which floated around in the shop. It only took a few seconds for someone to toss a lit match on it, upon which the hydrogen swelled up into a big yellow/orange ball of flame. It was impressive, but it burned pretty slowly because it was almost pure hydrogen in the bag, with very little oxygen - sort of a slow motion Hindenberg kind of deal.

They were discussing the merits of adding oxygen (from one of our oxy-acetylene rigs) to make the reaction faster and more impressive. But by that time, our lunch break was over, so I told them to all get back to work while I returned to the office space to make a bunch of phone calls. About an hour later, while I was on the phone negotiating with one of our suppliers about materials pricing, the guys herded a new 40-gallon bag o' hydrogen into the office for me to see. As I talked on the phone, they pantomimed that they had added a bunch of oxygen to the bag as well. Just as I was about to put the supplier on hold, one of them tossed a match onto the bag.

A few seconds later, I was flat on my back, the phone still held to my ear, and my chair still under me. The supplier on the other end of the phone was still talking, but all I could hear was a loud ringing noise and all I could see were spots in front of my eyes. Everyone else in the office was staggering around and rubbing their eyes.

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