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Flamethrower Backfire

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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 do 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, then even if you managed to avoid being torn open by its warped edges, 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.


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    Anime & 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 The Punisher: 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."
  • Transformers: Salvation, Slug is killed when Sandstorm shoots a hole in his phlogiston tank, which powers his Breath Weapon. The damages causes him to explode though Starscream uses Bludgeon to resurrect him.

    Fan Works 
  • This happens to a ship mounting a Klatchian Fire Engine as its main weapon, in Discworld fic Gap Year Adventures by A.A. Pessimal. Shortly afterwards, a similar weapon explodes in mysterious circumstances in a military compound. This is linked to the activities of two young graduates of the Assassins' School who are on holiday in the area and who know how to, for instance, inprovise crossbow bolts with incendiary explosive Devices attached.

    Film — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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 Captain America: The First Avenger, this is how Agent Carter takes down the flamethrower-packing Hydra soldier that Cap is having trouble with. She guns down the fuel tank strapped to his back until it explodes and sets him on fire.
  • In The Car: Road to Revenge, Rainer shoots the flamethrower Ash has built into her arm; causing her to go up in flames.
  • 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.
  • The opening scene of Lethal Weapon 4 has Riggs do this to a flamethrower-toting bad guy.
  • In Red (2010), 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.
  • 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.
  • This is how the modern killer Santa's father died in Silent Night (2012), being engulfed in flames after he and his Homemade Flamethrower were shot.
  • In True Lies, Harry improvises a flamethrower out of a fuel truck, but his nemesis shoots the fuel truck... with a rocket-propelled grenade.
  • Windtalkers does this to the squad member carrying the flamethrower.

  • Ciaphas Cain: In 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).
  • Discworld swamp dragons often suffer something called "blowback" which, like many dragon diseases, leads to bits of dragon being scattered over a very wide area.
  • In the Doom novelisation, the Cyberdemon is defeated by smashing it into a wall so that its ammo pack full of rockets explodes.
  • Dream Park: In the South Seas Treasure Game, Alex Griffin is using a flamethrower against some enemy mooks when another mook's rifle bullet hits the fuel tanks on his back. He gets it off just before it explodes into flames (fake, of course - it is a Live Action Role Playing Game, after all), but is nearly "killed" by the residual flames. Fortunately, one of the group's Clerics is able to heal him.
  • 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.
  • The War Against the Chtorr: Duke tries to use a flamethrower while in a "cotton candy storm"; the bits of organic detritus that make up the storm turn out to be highly flammable, and Duke ends up horribly burned.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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.
  • Battlelords of the 23rd Century If a flamethrower's tank is punctured, it has a 20% chance of exploding.
  • In BattleTech, incendiary ammo like Inferno short range missiles are extremely lethal as they can cause Humongous Mecha pilots to faint in their cockpit from Over Heating or cause ammunition to cook off from sheer heat, but Inferno ammo is also highly explosive. Few mech pilots willingly load their SRM racks with inferno rockets, because the slightest breath of heat can cause them to release their napalm on the user. However, man-portable Inferno launchers aren't subject to the same heat loads as a mech, so they are one of the few ways that an infantry squad can directly oppose the 4 story tall Walking Tanks.
    • The traditional 'Mech flamer draws superheated plasma from the 'Mech's fusion engine, and is not subject to this trope (destroying the flamer just ruins the compressor that fires out the plasma). On the other hand, vehicle flamers do require fuel to operate, and vehicle flamer fuel is very touchy. If vehicle flamer fuel is exploded by a hit from enemy fire, the (remains of) vehicle carrying it is guaranteed to be seen from orbit when it detonates.
  • Car Wars. A vehicle-mounted flamethrower could burst into flames and explode if hit by weapons fire.
  • Conspiracy X. If a flamethrower's tank is hit by an attack that does lethal damage, it may be punctured and explode, covering everything within five meters (including the wearer) in flames.
  • 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)..."
  • GDW's Dark Conspiracy main rules. If the fuel cannister of the M9A1 flamethrower is hit, the result is determined using the rules for a hit on a vehicle's fuel tank. If the fuel ignites, the user must immediately remove and discard the cannister or burn to death.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 mVideany shots are left in the tank.
  • Heavy Gear Equipment Catalog: Terranovan Equipment. If the fuel tank of a flamer (flamethrower) is hit it will have (undescribed) catastrophic results.
  • Hollow Earth Expedition. A person wearing a flamethrower is a potential walking bomb if gunfire hits the flamethrower.
  • Marvel Super Heroes, Polyhedron magazine #27 adventure "She Rampage". If the backpack containing a flamethrower's fuel is damaged, it may create an Amazing strength explosion that affects everyone in the same area.
  • Paranoia. A flamethrower can malfunction as a result of being hit in combat. If it does, it explodes, causing massive damage to anyone within five meters, including the wearer. Plasma generators are even worse.
  • 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.
  • 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?
  • Shadowrun supplement Cannon Companion. Flamethrower fuel is carried in an Ammunition Backpack. If the fuel tank is broken by an attack it will explode in a ball of fire, probably killing the user and endangering everyone nearby.
  • 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.
  • In Warhammer, a skaven warpfire thrower has a good chance to explode violently on any malfunction.
  • 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.

    Video Games 
  • 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 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.
  • Battlefield 1: This is the only practical way to kill the opposing flamethrower troops, since they are heavily armored.
  • 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, as shown in the page image, flamethrower Marines will explode in scripted events but the player is immune to this weakness.
  • One of the bosses in Chase the Express is a flamethrower-wielding terrorist lieutenant, and after you defeat him, the following cutscene have his pack exploding incinerating him alive (regardless where your last shot lands).
  • 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.
    • Command & Conquer: Renegade is the unusual FPS-spinoff of the RTS game, and features both Nod flame-troopers and Nod chem-troopers. Shooting them in the body will put them down just like any other infantryman. Get a critical hit on either their helmets or their fuel tanks or tiberium gas pods, and watch the hot flaming bits go flying away from the explosion next to the poor bastard's head. If other infantry were close enough (barely past touch distance, the models almost had to clip into each other) you could sometimes splash enemy troopers with the cloud of flames/poison.
  • In Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped, Dingodile is damaged by making him destroy the crystals protecting him, thus clearing a path for you to hit him which causes the fuel tank of his flamethrower to explode.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Subverted in The Evil Within 2. Shooting the fuel tanks on a Harbinger's flamethrower will deprive him of the ability to attack you from a distance, but you're basically trading one flavor of deadly for another, as it will also piss him off enough to constantly charge after you in the hopes of impaling you on the thrower's swordlike nozzle.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Horizon Zero Dawn: The Bellowback type machines get their names from the huge liquid storage containers they have on their backs, which are used to power their short range elemental attacks (a flamethrower for Fire Bellowbacks and a freeze-thrower for Frost Bellowbacks). They also have a smaller but still promenant throat sack that they use for their long-range attacks. Both can be targeted and will cause massive elemental explosions upon being destroyed- Bellowbacks are resistant to the element of their type, but it will still inflict massive damage on them and quite plausibly kill any other enemies that are nearby and lack their resistance.
  • Hunt Down: Psychonaught's second phase is her running around screaming and burning after her flamethrower ruptures. Don't get in her way.
  • 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 LISA: The Pointless - Scholar of the Wilbur Sin, if you distract Scrawny Davy with Joel's new Misdirection move, he'll turn around and expose the fuel tank on his back. Attacking it enough will cause it to explode, killing Davy and granting more experience than killing him normally.
  • 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. Thankfully, the M-451 Firestorm (the one flamethrower you can use for yourself as a Heavy Weapon) is self-contained and doesn't have this weakness.
  • 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.
  • Primal Carnage: While his flamethrower isn't a danger to the Pyromaniac himself, if he's killed by being dropped to his death by the Pteranodon, he will explode on impact, which has the potential to kill any of his teammates below (and grants the Pteranodon player an achievement).
  • In The Punisher, this is how you defeat the Russian (he throws Exploding Barrels at you).
  • 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...
  • The Saboteur: One of the easier ways to get rid of high-damaging, flamethrowing Mooks is simply by doing this tactic. Granted it's much easier to rid of them while they don't suspect anything, and when you're going for stealth, don't expect a cool trenchcoat to wear afterwards.
  • 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.
  • Terran Firebats in StarCraft explode with a drawn-out Big "NO!" when killed. Canonically, the flamethrower leaks into the suit.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Velvet Assassin though uncommon, you have the chance to shoot the backpack of flamethrower wielding Mooks and it will always instantly kill them. You can also do this while they're coming right towards you (somehow).
  • Vermintide II: Warpfire Throwers have a prominent back-mounted warpstone Power Crystal that explodes when struck, killing the unit instantly and leaving a flaming surface behind. For obvious reasons, it's best done with a ranged weapon.
  • XCOM 2's War of the Chosen expansion introduces ADVENT Purifiers, flamethrower infantry used by the alien regime to combat the Lost. The upside is that, since enemy squads tend to patrol in little clumps, if you manage to catch them off-guard and can deal enough damage to kill the Purifier in one hit, you can wipe out a whole group in a pretty fireball. The downside is that you obviously won't want to engage these guys in close combat, and if an enemy transport drops a Purifier down right next to your squad, which you put on Overwatch to automatically fire at the first threat they see...

    Web Comics 
  • 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...
  • 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.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • It should be noted that the safety measures mentioned at the top of the page that prevent this trope from occurring were instituted from both foresight and experience: early flamethrowers, first used on a large scale in the Battle of Verdun in World War I, were cumbersome, primitive, and extremely dangerous to their users if damaged. The slow-moving flamethrower assault teams were easily identified and became a target for every man on the opposing side who didn't like the idea of burning to death, and a well-placed grenade or artillery shell would mean the flamethrower operator's fiery end. For this reason, flamethrowers became mostly a defensive weapon fired from the relative safety of the trench.
  • 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.
  • The original Greek Fire was susceptible to this trope. Spontaneously igniting on contact with water and being used as a naval weapon would tend to have that effect.
  • On a related note, the early history of guided missiles (and other uses for rocketry beyond the scope of this trope) was hampered by the great difficulty in finding a propellant and oxidiser combination that was potent enough to launch a useful payload a useful distance but stable enough to withstand the rigours of battlefield use without becoming equally or more dangerous to its own operators as it was to the enemy.
  • While not exactly a Flamethrower, the various rockets used by the RPG-7 have a detonator cap on the tip of the rocket. Normally, and per Soviet/Russian training doctrine, this cap would have a small plastic cap placed on it to prevent it from going off if someone fumbled with the rocket and it fell on the cap. Reports from Iraq and Afghanistan have shown that apparently, the local insurgents have a tendency to remove the caps, even when moving from place to place. Sometimes, an enterprising US or Allied Sniper hits a guy with an RPG, he falls over, and the rocket explodes killing his comrades. Other times, soldiers have reported random explosions, and upon investigation found the remains of an insurgent who apparently was performing this practice.


Video Example(s):


Instakilling Streetcleaners

Hitting a Streetcleaner in their flamethrower's fuel tank is a fast way to dispatch them along with any other enemy caught in the blast (yourself included).

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Example of:

Main / FlamethrowerBackfire

Media sources: