Firemen and police officers in New Jersey blew themselves up last week in an "orange mushroom cloud of fire and debris" which created a "deafening boom felt miles away". The unfortunate public-safety operatives had been attempting to light a bonfire at a high-school rally.
According to the South Jersey Courier-Post, kids at Vineland High School had planned a "pep rally" at 6:30 pm local time last Wednesday. Weather conditions had been damp, and it seems that local firemen attending the rally "doused" the bonfire - constructed largely of wooden shipping pallets - with "diesel and another accelerant".
Within seconds of the fire being lit, there was apparently a devastating blast which "ejected a flaming pile of pallets into the sky" atop the above mentioned roiling fireball. Fortunately nobody was seriously hurt, though the Courier-Post reports that a firefighter was injured by flying debris and several police officers "sought medical treatment for ear ailments" following the blast.
No schoolkids were harmed, and the rally apparently went ahead without trouble at an alternative venue free of exploding bonfires.
Initial investigations focused on the possibility that unknown scoundrels had "tampered" with the pallet pile beforehand. This theory was bolstered by the fact that some onlookers reported a sulphurous smell as of gunpowder following the explosion.
However detectives later downplayed the gunpowder-plot theory, saying that the smell probably came from the diesel poured on the fire by the firefighters, which apparently had a high sulphur content.
Rather than any foul play, it appears that vapour from the accelerants built up in the deep pit where the fire had been built, forming a fuel-air mix of the type employed by the military in so-called "bunker buster" bombs. When the fire was lit, the accidental fuel-air mix blew up rather than simply burning.
As diesel is hard to evaporate, especially in chilly weather, it seems probable that the other unnamed accelerant used by the firefighters was responsible for the blast.
Investigators described the inadvertent bunker-busting pallet-flinging fireball unpleasantness as a "freak accident", according to the Courier-Post. ®
Before becoming the Reg comedy-explosions correspondent, Lewis Page worked in bomb disposal for some years. He would of course never be so irresponsible as to use volatile accelerants, except when deliberately creating a fireball/blast-incendiary effect for educational purposes. Or maybe on very special occasions.