Camping --- 12/3/2011 --- Ithaca

This is one of those stories that is only funny in retrospect. When I tell this story I'm going to start with, "Want to hear how I learned that old fire extinguishers can still put out fires?" That is the hook that gets people interested. You need to have a hook.

Today, December 3rd 2011, was the annual COE gear sale. I look forward to this event for at least a month prior. Clean out the closets! Load the closets back up! Get some cash! Spend some cash! One of these years those yellow fake crocs will sell! Then comes sale day and I get up early, walk to COE an hour before the doors open... and find myself 230th in line. It is a popular sale.

Come 9am it doesn't matter if you are first in line or 230th, you make a beeline towards those items you most want. I scored pretty big this year. New softshell, some sweet tricams, carabiners I didn't need (look for those at next year's sale... I now own over 70 carabiners). Also grabbed a whisperlite stove and pot to give to someone as a gift.

Later, at home, enjoying the profound good feelings that come with buying stuff at a good price, I go through my treasure hoard. I put on my new softshell. I mark my new tricams with nail polish. I pull out the stove... might as well clean and test it before giving it away.

And now we get to the good stuff. Because remember, this is a story about a fire extinguisher.

Like most older whisperlites, this stove is encrusted in soot. I spend some time cleaning the outside. I disassemble it, clean the inside. Use the pipecleaner to clean the fuel line. Disassemble and clean the pump. Put it all back together and grab a fuel bottle. Time to test.

I've always tested stoves in the kitchen on my range top. I figure, the range can handle the heat. Why go outside if you don't have to? I think that is my motto as an outdoor educator... it is a harsh world out there, stay inside. So I light the stove and it goes flawlessly. Primer cup fills, lights, stove lights, beautiful blue flame. I grab a kettle and decide to make hot chocolate as a reward.

The kettle starts heating, but suddenly, a problem. A bit of fuel starts leaking out of the pump and catching fire. Looks like it is coming out of the fuel valve. I try to blow it out so I can shut off the fuel valve. No luck. I grab an oven mitt to shut the fuel valve, but seconds after the fuel started leaking, the entire pump is engulfed in flames. Inverting a pot over the stove to choke off oxygen is futile. The pot has a poor seal with the range top.

This isn't good.

Using the oven mitt, I grab the stove by the bottom of the fuel bottle (the only part that isn't actively burning) and run across the house so I can pitch it outside. Surprisingly, I manage to not drip burning gasoline all over the house. And I'm glad I did it, because discharging a fire extinguisher inside a house makes a horrible mess. That was a lesson I learned in my dorm room during freshman year (actual freshman year). Anyhow, the stove is now out on the deck and burning like crazy. On the wooden deck.

This STILL isn't good.

Grabbing the stove again, I run it off the deck into the grass. Here I try smashing it into the ground to put out the flames. I'm somewhat successful, but the pump is still on fire. And by pump, I mean tiny bit of remaining red plastic. Once the last of that plastic is gone, the entire contents of the fuel bottle will be exposed to the flames.

This REALLY isn't good.

I run inside the house. I actually lock the door behind me. Like the stove is going to chase me or something? That part really cracks me up now. Just as I get the door locked -- I mean the exact same second -- the stove erupts. Six foot flames shooting out of the bottle. I trot back to the kitchen, grab the fire extinguisher from under the sink, pull the pin, wonder briefly about the age of the fire extinguisher and if the expiration date really means anything or is just a scam to sell more fire extinguishers, try to get back outside, realize the door is locked, unlock the door, go outside and hit the stove with the entire contents of the fire extinguisher.

Worked like a charm.

Wisely (randomly) I was using a small 11oz. fuel bottle not the more common 33oz. size. After letting the mess cool down I disassembled the unit and checked the bottle. A whisperlite when functioning correctly wouldn't have even used an ounce of fuel during the entire course of this adventure. The bottle was very nearly empty. Though it isn't clear how much burned off in 15 seconds of six foot flames and how much leaked out after the fire was extinguished.

My new softshell didn't even get singed! Though I do need to buy a fire extinguisher. Maybe I can get a deal on one that is past the expiration date.

Lessons learned:

  • Test your stoves outside the house.
  • A stove can burn through 11oz. of white gas faster than you think.
  • COE should continue to be really diligent about getting people to sign waivers at the gear sale.
  • Old fire extinguishers can still put out fires.

P.S. Someone is going to get quite a deal at next year's COE gear sale. "Whisperlite stove, pump not included, $1"

Melted pump. (Category:  Camping)

Melted pump.    Ithaca -- 12/3/2011