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Vapor Trail
A vehicle is damaged and leaking fuel. The hero (and it is almost always the hero) ignites the trail of fuel, causing a line of flame to streak after the fleeing vehicle. The fire catches up to the vehicle, ignites the fuel tank and causes the vehicle to go up in an impressive fireball.

Compare Powder Trail. Also remotely related to the one of worst problems with Stealth in Space.

Nothing to do with a lack of a paper trail where there ought to be one, or with the vapor trails from an airplane's wings. Also not to be confused with either the Rush album or the Crystal Method song entitled Vapor Trails, or the Shoot 'em Up also named Vapor Trail.

Examples:

Anime and Manga

Comic Books
  • In Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, the streak of flame almost catches up with Tintin's car. Then the fuel runs out.
    • Definitely not a case of Truth in Television: The fuel-air vapor in the empty tank would actually be a lot more flammable than liquid fuel.
  • Jonah Hex pulls one in Hex #18, lighting the fuel with his trusty cigarillo.
  • Marv does this to a wrecked car in the Sin City story, Just Another Saturday Night.
  • Happens in DC Retroactive: Batman - The 90's when a cabbie drops a lit cigarette into a pool of gasoline leaking from his wrecked cab.
  • Manhunter does this in Detective Comics #440. When Damon Nostrand attempts to run him down, Manhunter drops underneath the vehicle and rips the fuel tank open with a knife. He then tosses a lit match into the trail of fuel the car is leaking, which ignites and blows up the car.
  • In Chaos! #3, Red Eye blows up a gas station by tossing his still-lit spliff into the pool of gasoline leaking out of the wrecked pumps.

Film
  • Done by James Bond to a fuel tanker in Licence to Kill.
  • Done by John McClane to a jet in Die Hard 2. It's worse in this case, as the Mythbusters proved that jet fuel is actually really hard to light in a liquid state - especially in a snowstorm. Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker.
  • Lethal Weapon 3
  • Happens accidentally to one team of racers in The Gumball Rally.
  • In The Stupids, the pursuer shot Stanley's gas tank. Stanley proceeded to light the trail on fire, igniting the pursuer's car. Of course, he had no idea what was going on.
  • This is how Porter exacts his final vengeance on all the bad guys in the movie Payback. "You were right not to trust me."
  • The final scene of Spy Fiction.
  • Spells the end for the racist redneck in The Final Destination.
  • An exploding aircraft in Speed.
  • In X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Wolvie ignites a spark with his claws. The fire travels up the trail of fuel leaking from Agent Zero's downed helicopter. Kerflooey.
  • In Torque, a vapor trail chases down a bike moving several hundred mph.
  • During the diner fight in Iron Man 3, Tony splashes a trail of fuel towards Agent Brandt and then throws the canister of fuel at her before igniting the trail with red hot remains of his handcuffs.
  • Happens by accident during the scene with the flying wing in Raiders of the Lost Ark due to a series of minor "oops"es. Indy unchocks the wheel of the flying wing to use the chocks as a weapon against a Giant Mook, and the plane starts to turn in place and its wingtip punctures a fuel truck. Next, Marion uses the plane's machine gun turret to keep Nazi reinforcements at bay and stuff catches fire. The fuel pouring out of the truck eventually reaches the blaze, Indy rescues Marion and they run for cover, and then the whole airstrip explodes.
  • Gangster Squad: When Cohen's goon attempt to ambush the squad in Chinatown, they open the fuel tank in the truck the squad are converging on. One of the gangsters then tosses his lit cigarette into the pooling fuel.
  • In the opening scene of The Usual Suspects, a dying Keaton lights a trail of fuel leading to some tanks stacked on the deck of the ship, only for the fire to be casually urinated on by the as-yet unrevealed Big Bad. He shoots Keaton after some brief dialogue, then casually drops a lit cigarette into the fuel to set it and the ship itself alight.

Literature
  • One of W.E. Johns' Biggles adventures features this. An air pirate encounters Biggles' deHavilland Mosquito fighter variant (four 20mm cannon plus or minus four .303 machine guns) in place of the unarmed bomber-turned-civilian-transport he'd planned to attack. When Biggles nails his opponent's fuel tank, the fellow panics and attempts to return fire through his own vapour trail. Because he's using tracer rounds, which basically trail a stream of fire behind them for up to six hundred yards... well, you can guess the rest.
  • In the Discworld novel Snuff, Sam Vimes soaks a wooden tower in brandy and then leaves a trail of brandy leading away from it. He ignites the tower by dropping his cigar in the trail of brandy.

Live-Action TV
  • Tested (and busted) on Mythbusters.
    • A trail of gasoline can be set on fire, but if the vehicle is moving faster than about five miles an hour, the flame will never catch up with it, and even if it did, the gas tank won't explode.
    • Fuels other than gasoline, such as diesel or jet fuel, just can't be ignited if lying in a pool on the ground.
  • Farscape did this one too.
  • Alarm für Cobra 11 uses this occasionally.
  • In the Angel episode "Redefinition", Angel sets Darla and Dru on fire at the end by smoking a cigarette and throwing it in to a trail of gasoline.
  • In the CSI: Miami episode "Dishonor", the killer ignites the gasoline-soaked victim by dropping a lit match into a trail of gasoline.

Music Videos
  • Happens in Music Videos for Radiohead's "Karma Police" and The Arctic Monkeys' "Florescent Adolescent".

Newspaper Comics
  • Happens to Measles' car in Dick Tracy. For added drama, Tracy was trapped clinging to the underside of the car at the time.
  • Modesty Blaise: Modesty is caught in an accidental one after her jeep overturns in "Walkabout".

Video Games

Web Video
  • Seen in the "Ticker" episode of The Hire. When the Badass Driver stops for a moment on a bridge, the Bullet Sparks from a strafing helicopter ignite the petrol dripping out of his fuel tank, but he outruns the trail of flames as soon as he drives off again.

Western Animation
  • In the Justice League episode "Fury", fallen power lines ignite a trail of spilled fuel leading to a downed helicopter.
  • On the Donald Duck cartoon "The Flying Jalopy", the villain cuts the fuel line of Donald's airplane and lights the trail in midair, which Don then tries to outrun.
  • The Secret Saturdays: Happens to Doyle when his jet pack springs a leak in "Cryptid vs. Cryptid".

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