Flamethrower Backfire

A Sub-Trope of Man on Fire, for when the person carrying the flamethrower (and its fuel tank backpack) burns to death (or simply disappears in a fireball) when his/her pack is hit, or for when a bullet strikes a Molotov Cocktail or incendiary grenade before the person carrying it has a chance to throw it. Would also count if the soldier manages to ditch the burning equipment before they themselves ignite (i.e. for a smoldering grenade attached to their web gear).

Not actually Truth in Television. While shooting or otherwise damaging the tank of a flamethrower will make it leak, the fuel won't ignite immediately (even a tracer bullet isn't guaranteed to so, since there's no oxygen inside the tank) unless something else ignites it. The fuel used by flamethrowers is also actually somewhat difficult to ignite and slow burning, which is what allows it to be fired in a targeted stream without igniting the backflow. Put simply, flamethrowers do not explode because this scenario occurred to the designers.

That is not to say, however, that the experience is likely to be pleasant for the operator or anyone standing nearby. For starters, anyone who has seen a ruptured aerosol can or air tank knows that it would be very bad to have one strapped to your back. As the punch from your metal backpack knocks you down, a caustic, slippery, noxious, and potentially flammable substance is now spraying at high pressure onto you, your comrades, and your surroundings. Given that one is holding an ignition source designed to ignite said substance, all it takes is a clench of the hand on the trigger to take things from bad to Nightmare Fuel. While not a recipe for an explosion, it is a great way to ruin someone's day.

Sister trope to Reliably Unreliable Guns. See also Hoist by His Own Petard. Compare Shoot the Fuel Tank, where the target is a vehicle but the results are similarly explosive. For other convenient, if unrealistic, sources of Stuff Blowing Up, see Exploding Barrels, Every Car Is a Pinto, and the other SubTropes of Made of Explodium.

Contrast Video Game Flamethrowers Suck, as a Flamethrower Backfire in a video game is usually to the player's advantage: often, the player can make enemies' flamethrowers explode, but not vice versa. Also see Pineapple Surprise.


Anime and Manga
  • Black Lagoon: Revy takes out Claude "Torch" Weaver in the Greenback Jane arc by shooting his fuel pack, causing him to fly like a rocket before exploding.
    Revy: You're a rocket man, baby!

Comic Books
  • In the second Deadshot mini-series, Deadshot defeats Firebug by shooting the arsonist through the wings of his costume, which he uses to store the fuel for his flamethrowers. Firebug goes up in a fireball.
  • In "Welcome Back, Frank", The Punisher is well aware of the flamethrower's limitations: "Flamethrower's no good for a prolonged firefight. Sooner or later one of the tanks is going to take a bullet. Too bad for them that's what I'm counting on."

  • The opening scene of Lethal Weapon 4 has Riggs do this to a flamethrower-toting bad guy.
  • Windtalkers does this to the squad member carrying the flamethrower.
  • Done in the D-Day scene of Saving Private Ryan, wherein an American soldier bursts into flames after having the tank on his back shot by a Nazi machine gun, engulfing him and some soldiers around him who frantically go for the ocean. All with no sound.
  • In Red, an agent shoots a RPG at John Malkovich, and he shoots the RPG, which explodes mid-air and kills the agent.
  • In The Running Man, one of the Stalkers, appropriately named Fireball, dual wields flame throwers. It ends badly for him.
  • In True Lies, Harry improvises a flamethrower out of a fuel truck, but his nemesis shoots the fuel truck...with a rocket propelled grenade.
  • This is how the modern killer Santa's father died in Silent Night, being engulfed in flames after he and his homemade flamethrower were shot.
  • In Captain America: The First Avenger, this is how Agent Carter takes down the flamethrower-packing Hydra soldier that Cap was having trouble with. She guns down the fuel tank strapped to his back until it explodes and sets him on fire.
  • In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, this happens to Anatoli Knyazev when he holds Martha Kent hostage, ready to burn her alive on Lex's orders. Batman shoots the tank of the flamethrower, causing it to explode, taking out Knyazev and his Mooks in a giant explosion.
  • In Kong: Skull Island, one of the soldiers uses a flamethrower against the skull-crawlers during the fight in the graveyard. This works until he gets slammed back into one of the skeletons and his tank ruptures and he goes up in flames.

  • In the Doom novelisation, the Cyberdemon is defeated by smashing it into a wall so that its ammo pack full of rockets explodes.
  • In the Ciaphas Cain novel "For The Emperor" a sniper accompanying the main character shoots the pack of a (already dead) genestealer cultist's flamethrower to create a barrier to cover their escape (although this is justified, since the sniper was armed with a LongLas, which would easily have been able to boil the fuel and make the tank explode). Averted in the novel "Caves of Ice" where a flamethrower equipped guardsman is killed by a bolter to the chest.
  • In the Star Trek novel Strangers From The Sky, the terrorist Racher comes to a fiery end due to this after his laser-powered napalm-fed flamethrower jams in the arctic weather conditions it's being used in, causing the fuel to saturate his clothing and ignite when he charges with it.

Tabletop Games
  • In Warhammer, a skaven warpfire thrower has a good chance to explode violently on any malfunction.
  • Paranoia. A flamethrower could malfunction as a result of being hit in combat. If it did, it would explode, causing massive damage to anyone within 5 meters, including the wearer. Plasma generators are even worse.
  • Warhammer 40,000
    • Ork weapons are designed with no safety features in mind, so shooting the Ammunition Backpack is usually a good tactic.
    • Crossing this trope with Every Car Is a Pinto, the Hellhound Flame Tank can suffer a catastrophic explosion even to a mild hit as a result of its flamer tanks going up.
  • Ghost in the Shell The Roleplaying Game (d20). If a flamethrower's backpack is reduced to zero Hit Points it ruptures and explodes, causing fire damage to the wearer and splash damage to everyone within five feet.
  • Heavy Gear Equipment Catalog: Terranovan Equipment. If the fuel tank of a flamer (flamethrower) is hit it will have (undescribed) catastrophic results.
  • Battlelords of the 23rd Century. If a flamethrower's tank is punctured, it has a 20% chance of exploding.
  • Car Wars. A vehicle-mounted flamethrower could burst into flames and explode if hit by weapons fire.
  • GURPS Technomancer. If a flamethrower's backpack fuel tank is penetrated, it has a 1/6 chance (1/3 if it was a fire attack) to explode. The damage done depends on how many shots are left in the tank.
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • Dragon magazine #67 article "Modern Monsters". A hit by a firearm on a flamethrower's fuel canister will cause an explosion doing 8d8 Hit Points of damage (with a saving throw for half damage) to all within 10 yards.
    • The Necklace of Fireballs is the magic equivalent of a bandolier of grenades. If both the wearer and necklace fail their saves against a magic fire attack, all remaining fireballs activate immediately.
  • Classic Traveller
    • The Dragon magazine #116 article "Aim and Burn" has several types of flamethrowers, each with their fuel supply in backpack tanks. On any penetrating hit from behind the tanks could explode, which would not only kill the user but cover a large area with burning fuel.
    • The Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society #3 article "Advanced Powered Battle Armor". The armor has a built-in flamer (flamethrower) with a fuel tank on the back of the suit. If the tank is hit there's an 8% chance the tank will explode, disabling the suit and killing the wearer.
  • d20 Modern: "A flamethrower’s backpack has hardness 5 and 5 hit points. ... A backpack reduced to 0 hit points ruptures and explodes, dealing 6d6 points of fire damage to the wearer (no save allowed)..."
  • Hollow Earth Expedition. A person wearing a flamethrower is a potential walking bomb if gunfire hits the flamethrower.
  • Role Playing Games Inc.'s Recon: The Roleplaying Game of the Vietnam War. If a flamethrower's fuel tank is hit it will explode, covering the flamethrower's user and anyone within five yards with burning fuel. This will inflict normal flamethrower damage on the victims for the next four combat rounds.
  • Most flamethrowers in Deadzone have an ability called "Volatile". If the model using it takes a hit but their armor stops them taking damage, the player rolls a die. On an 8, the fuel tank explodes, setting the model on fire and destroying the weapon.
  • Victory Games' Ambush tabletop wargame. The General magazine Volume 21 #5's "Victory Insider" section article "His Majesty's Soldiers" had information for using flamethrowers during World War II. Anyone killed or injured while wearing a flamethrower had to "roll for explosion". If the roll failed, the fuel tank exploded, killing the wearer and affecting everyone else in the hex like a grenade explosion.
  • Yes, you can fill your flamethrower with Radium infused fuel in Rocket Age. Yes, you will leave an even worse corpse than usual, why do you ask?

Video Games
  • Borderlands uses this trope in spirit; the elite Crimson Lance units all have ammo packs on their back and come in electric, acid, and fire varieties. You can shoot it until it explodes (although it'll take quite a bit of damage before blowing up).
  • Call of Duty: World At War: Nazis with flamethrowers explode when their tank is shot. In the Pacific, flamethrower Marines will explode in scripted events but the player is immune to this weakness.
  • Also done in the intro of Dawn of War, when the flamethrowers exploded when hit by an axe.
  • In Diablo 2 bosses with the Fire Enchanted modifier will explode violently upon death.
  • Gears of War: Flamethrower Locust mooks go up in flames after a few shots to their fuel tank, which they apparently wear just for fun, because you can use the flamethrower just fine without it, even if you are playing as that exact same Locust mook.
  • Killzone: Liberation featured scout units (Helghast of course) with unusually large and explosive radios on their backs that stun the wearer when detonated. Thankfully, destroying the radio of a scout prevents them from calling in backup or alerting other Helghast.
  • In Mass Effect 2, flamethrower-wielding enemies will explode if hit with the correct power (Overload or Incinerate) or their fuel-tanks are shot. This can be used tactically by a player to inflict damage on other enemies. Similarly, in Mass Effect 3, the Geth Pyro has a fuel-tank on its back that will begin to emit flames before exploding if it's shot once the Pyro's shields have been taken down.
  • Happens in Men of War, usually by shooting a high enough caliber shot at the fuel tank carried by flamethrower troopers will cause the container to combust, and setting fire to everybody within several meters of them before finally burning to death themselves.
  • In The Punisher, this is how you defeat the Russian (he throws Exploding Barrels at you).
  • In Saints Row: The Third, Flamethrower-armed Brutes can be killed the normal way, but since they wear a welding visor, they're mostly immune to headshots, making it much harder. On the other hand, if you can put enough bullets into the backpack of the flamethrower, it'll jet them into the air and explode.
  • Flamethrowers in both the first Command & Conquer Tiberium & Red Alert games would explode when shot, which contributed to their uselessness. Since infantry bunch up when attacking, if a single Flamethrower dies, he's probably taking the whole group with him.
    • Grenadier units in those games also had the same problem in that they cause an explosion upon death. It wasn't as bad as the Flamethrowers, but a group of injured Grenadiers could all die if a single one did. Interestingly, the Disc Throwers in the vanilla Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun game didn't have this problem, but Westwood added it back in for the Firestorm expansion pack, meaning GDI players once again had to be careful how they used these units.
  • The first Syphon Filter game had the boss battle against Anton Girdeux. The man was wearing body armor that made him Immune to Bullets and Gabe can't use his explosive weapons without triggering the nearby bomb. However, Girdeux was also using a flamethrower and had a huge tank of fuel strapped to his back. Multiple well-aimed shots to his fuel tank later, and Girdeux was toast.
  • Oddly inverted in Alien Hominid. Troops with flamethrowers actually have huge healthpools and no sweetspot you can shoot to kill them faster, and while they do explode when they finally die odds are they were going to explode anyway.
  • In Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, this is one of the few flaws of the otherwise Game-Breaking flamethrower: if you try using it and Celerity at the same time, this will result in you getting hit by your own flames and dying instantly.
  • In Army of Two: The 40th Day, flamethrower-wielding enemies function as minibosses, and can only be killed by shooting their fuel tanks. A variation uses a grenade launcher instead, requiring you to shoot the 3 grenade pouches hanging from their belts.
  • Multiple Resident Evil games allow you to shoot the weapon out of an enemy's hand. Usually they'll just pull out another one from Hammerspace, but if they were holding a pipe bomb or a Molotov cocktail...
  • Far Cry 3 and Far Cry 4 allow for both variations. Early in the game you get troops that throw molotovs at you constantly once they discover you, and killing them causes them to light themselves on fire and then either run about in a frenzy (if you're still in stealth) or try to come after you and light you up as well (if they know you're there). Flamethrower Heavies later in the game are safe from this issue - and for that matter most gunfire below a headshot with a .50 BMG sniper rifle - but they can still be blown up with less effort by targeting their fuel tank.
  • Played with in Everything or Nothing. In his third boss battle, Jaws greets Bond with a powerful, backpack-mounted flamethrower. Considering that this particular battle takes place on a rapidly-falling elevator platform with no brakes, shooting the backpack merely serves as a distraction. Now covered in flames, Jaws furiously beats himself down, but doesn't notice that Bond has taken to the ejector seat of a nearby fighter jet. Whether or not Jaws survived the platform's crash remains to be seen.

Web Comic
  • In Gone with the Blastwave, Crosshair at one point suggests destroying a group of Yellows by having Pyro run into the middle of them and then shooting his fuel tank. Pyro replies that the blast radius wouldn't be big enough.
  • In Demon Fist, Jaws takes out Bon Bardman by biting holes in the gas hose of his flamethrower, extinguishing his pilot light at the same time. When he tries to use his lighter to restart it...

Western Animation

Real Life
  • During the Rhine crossing in March 1945, an accident in handling the load caused several men to be soaked in the fuel mixture used by British flamethrower tanks. While this did not ignite (it was designed to be as inert as possible in the absence of sparks or naked flame), they had to be rushed to the rear - very carefully - for extensive chemical decontamination and medical treatment. One man got it in the eyes and was blinded for life. paradoxically, the greatest hazard was not fire but cold. The sublimation of the chemical components under normal air pressure lowered the skin/body temperature of one completely immersed man, to the extent he had to be treated for exposure and possible frostbite.