LOX and Bonfires Do Not Mix Well
The summer of 2003 was especially notable for a number of reasons.
I was visiting briefly with our neighbor across the street when I noticed Karl and her son going up our side steps to Fran's (Grandma's- my mother-in-law) back porch. Karl was carrying a home-made contraption that was basically a long handled bucket. I figured that he was going to demonstrate how cool it was to freeze oranges in liquid oxygen. Karl had figured out that Fran's dewar of LOX had some maintenance valves hidden in a compartment and thus learned how to withdraw liquid from it. I thought no more of it until later. He knew enough about the hazards of cryogenic materials that he took precautions to avoid skin exposure, and had modified a Thermos to vent the pressure as it evaporates.
A short time later I was in the kitchen with Pop and Carol, and we heard a BOOOMM that shook the house. I dashed out the back door towards our burn pile which is at the very back of the yard. I saw nothing very much amiss - at least from that distance. There were no bodies laying crumpled or anything like that. So I turned around and went back in the house, pondering over it all. I assumed that they had dumped the LOX onto a fire; not all that safe, but it seemed like no disasters had occurred, so it was no big deal.
On my heels, a breathless and panicked looking Michael charges into the house and starts looking for fire extinguishers. I was a bit slow in processing this new development and the only thing I could think to say was an admonition not to use up the Halon ones. Hey, they are expensive and I would like to keep those for indoor use – less messy, you know. I also noticed that he was grabbing large quantities of Band-aids and similar medical type items.
Then my brain did go into gear, and I realized that something must be terribly wrong. I followed him out there and this time went all the way back to where they were at. The fire was substantially out by the time we got there. There was a very large circular area surrounding the burn pile that was totally scorched. This time I noticed Karl sitting in sort of a shapeless heap, behind a few trees, some distance away. He looked a bit ashen, so I rushed over to him. He had a mountain of Band-Aids and wrappers and a bottle of hydrogen peroxide next to him. He was gingerly working on one arm. I examined him, and determined that he was substantially OK, but had a number of small shrapnel wounds in his arm. Apparently the force of the explosion had thrown him quite a distance, which probably helped to minimize the shrapnel injuries. I was in automatic mode, so I just checked him over for injuries and helped clean him up.
A neighbor who was a volunteer fireman wandered over through the corn field to investigate the explosion, and we allowed him to believe that a aerosol can had detonated and that it was under control.
After I calmed down, I figured that Karl had learned that this was going over the line and that I need not worry about this happening again. My forensic analysis determined that they had gathered up some coal, and used kerosene to get it burning. Then once they had all this fuel going in a nice blaze , Karl poured on the LOX. At least it was kerosene and not gasoline. I also reminded them of the fact that kerosene and LOX is used to propel rockets for a reason..........Karl claimed that he was not aware of the kerosene used to accelerate the fire, so apparently lack of communication between the culprits was a contributing factor.
He went down to the shop in town ( perhaps 1/4 mile or so) where Amy was working and I assumed that he was making a pre-emptive move to alleviate some of her wrath. I was correct, and she was surprisingly calm. At least until the next day, when she pieced together that the explosion that SHE had heard was caused by Karl........
Her edict was banishment from the computer for three months. I actually think she was considering even more draconian punishments. I am not sure if there will be time off for good behavior, but I will intercede at least to the extent that I need his help with computer related items -- he has my DVD burner in his machine.........
And of course there is Amy's comment that echoes through my mind ---
"They are turning out just like you......."
I will note that without exception, every one of my engineer friends was very impressed with this stunt, and thought it was really cool.