Playing with Fire!

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Junk modelling with a destructive twist, as part of Fire Safety for Scouts or Explorers


A wooden sandpit (make one from plywood and stripwood, about 1.5m x 1m would be a good size.) Need one or two bags of sharp sand (Builders sand would do but tends to stain clothes) DO NOT USE A READY-MADE PLASTIC SANDPIT!
Cardboard boxes, cotton rags, anything small that is "safe" to burn (no toxic fumes) - so no plastics or green plants etc. Sticky tape/string/etc.
Some cheap spray bottles (empty clean household cleaner bottles would be fine)
Paraffin and Meths
Matches and lighter (a cook's one with a long spout is best)
Several buckets of cold water
Plus for the finale, a sturdy camp stove, billy can, cooking oil, old tea-towels, garden cane, cup of water..


This is very definitely an Outdoor Activity! At twilight is best, particularly if using meths as the flame can be invisible in daylight.
Avoid a field with long dry grass, or overhanging trees or anywhere that can be easily damaged by fire! A large campsite fire circle would be ideal, or the middle of the desert...

After discussing fire safety and the "Fire Triangle" - how fire needs Fuel, Heat and Oxygen to burn, let them play with it in a safe environment.
So, let them make some junk models - could be houses, towers, vehicles - whatever they want, so long as they are small enough to fit into the sandpit.
The sand needs to be deep enough that the models can be anchored into it, else they may blow around.
Then, one group at a time, they play at burning them down.

As an added spice, show how an accellerant like paraffin or meths will make things burn much fiercer. Let them one at a time spray it onto their model, both before lighting it, and after it is going. A fine mist of paraffin will make a really big blaze. Read them the riot act - No spraying of flammable liquids at another person, or while someone else is bending close to the model.

This activity allows them to see how fire behaves. Like how it burns upwards, how it can spread to neighboring surfaces.

Show how fire can be smothered, by using the sand as each model burns down.

Make sure all long hair is tied up and no dangling clothing (take off all scout scarves for example).
Warn them that only one person at a time is allowed close to the sandpit once a model is lit.
Explain that the buckets of cold water are there if they scorch a hand, or if a fire gets out of control.
Keep the paraffin and other flammable materials a safe distance away when not in use.
Be ready to deal with anything that blows away.
This activity needs supervision at all times!

The Grand Finale - a chip pan fire.
This needs plenty of space, plus a scout leader with little sense!
Put about 300 ml of cooking oil into a small dixie. While it is cold, show how a lit match will go out when dropped into it, and a lighter played over the surface has no effect.
Then heat it up until it catches fire. You may need to improvise a windbreak to achieve this outside (and you may need a new Scout Hut if you attempt it inside!)
When it is on fire, demonstrate the safe way to put it out. Using the bucket of water, wet an old tea-towel and hold it at arms-length with it hanging down over your hands, so it is between you and the fire. Then drape it over the pan and turn off the cooker.
If the cooker is particularly sturdy and the pan is very stable, you may re-light the pan and let some of the Scouts try this as well.
Then, get them to stand at least 12 feet away and show them how NOT to put it out!
Tie a small cup or jug onto the end of a long cane and fill with water. Relight the pan and turn off the gas stove. Then, using the cane to keep as far away as possible, pour some cold water into the burning pan. The resulting fireball will be very impressive!

That is one demonstration that they will never forget.

So far, running this activity the only injury has been from hammering a finger when nailing the sandpit together.


  • #outdoor
  • danger
  • Fire Safety
  • Junk Modelling

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