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Trashcan Bonfire

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But how will the pink trashcan stay warm?

"Bonfires burning bright,
Pumpkin faces in the night."
The Misfits, "Halloween"

Trashcan Bonfire: a bonfire in a trashcan or oil drum. Often homeless people will be huddled around it for warmth. In an Industrial Ghetto, striking workers may burn scrap waste in oil drums for warmth while picketing a Mega-Corp's factory. Drug dealers or other criminals may use a burning trash can fire to destroy evidence. Poor people in post-apocalyptic stories also use them.

Will sometimes be added to a Smoke and Fire Factory. A character might burn something within it or someone might knock into it and become a Man on Fire. Or it might just stay in the background.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • In Robyn Hood: I Love NY #4, Robyn talks to some homeless people warming themselves around a trashcan bonfire while looking for leads on the sewer murders. One of them tries to get handsy and Robyn deals with him in her usual fashion.

    Comic Strips 

    Films — Animation 
  • Batman: The Killing Joke. While Batman is questioning some prostitutes about the Joker's whereabouts, some bums nearby are warming themselves around a fire burning in an oilcan.
  • In Batman: Hush there's a Hitler Cam shot of several bums warming themselves around a trashcan fire, unaware of Batman and Catwoman leaping across the alley high above their heads.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Hell Hotel in The Lost Boys is absolutely full of these.
  • Batman:
    • Batman (1989): A barrel with a fire in it appears in two different scenes of people watching the Joker's TV broadcast outdoors. The first was members of a motorcycle gang, the other was a construction site.
    • Batman & Robin uses it twice.
      • When Poison Ivy and Bane break into a gang's hideout, there's a trashcan with a fire inside in the middle of the area.
      • At the beginning of the motorcycle race, there are several in the background behind the gang members.
    • In Batman Begins, this is how Bruce Wayne disposes of his ID before heading off to the wilds of Asia. The wino warming himself there convinces Bruce not to burn his expensive longcoat too, but to give it to him instead (Bruce having already bought his jacket).
  • Blade Runner: There are several visible while Roy and Leon are walking in the street and the bicyclists are riding by. There are two visible in the street where Deckard gets an identification of the snake scale, and three of them can be seen during Deckard's pursuit of Zhora.
  • Terminator:
    • In The Terminator, while Sarah is dreaming of the post-apocalyptic future, several can be seen in the underground area where the humans are hiding.
    • In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, after the T-1000 arrives at Miles Dyson's house it discovers a fire in a barrel. The fire is burning the documents that detail Dyson's project to understand and re-create the CPU chip from the T-800 in the first movie.
  • The Psycho Knife Nut villain from The Crow was killed while hanging out around one.
  • Graverobber, occasional narrator of Repo! The Genetic Opera, is seen disgustedly throwing a tabloid newspaper into a trashcan bonfire at the very end of the film.
  • Rocky:
    • A fire in a trash can with a small crowd of people around it appears during a night time scene (with Rocky walking by it) in the opening credits of the movie.
    • A trashcan bonfire can be seen near the start of the famous Training Montage, as Rocky runs through a dilapidated neighborhood, reinforcing the look of 1970s urban decay.
  • The Running Man, during the outdoor scenes in the area where the poor citizens live. Oil cans with flames inside appear in the scenes when the protagonists first arrive and when the crowds are betting on the game.
  • The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension: In the Yoyodyne building, some are visible in the Red Lectroid bivouac as well as one in the Pitt.
  • Flatliners: After being deserted by Nelson at the cemetery, Steckle and Hurley warm themselves near a burning barrel before being picked up by David Labraccio.
  • Patton: Two appear in the Nazi headquarters at the end of the war, where they're being used to burn documents so the Allies won't get them.
  • RoboCop 2. There are several on the streets of Detroit as Robocop approaches Cain's first drug factory.
  • Wild Wild West: Several are burning at the encampment of the former Confederate soldiers at Malheureux Point before the arrival of Dr. Loveless's vehicle.
  • Running Scared (1986): During the scene on the basketball court there's one in the background.
  • In The Bourne Ultimatum, Jason Bourne creates a distraction by tossing an aerosol can in one, creating a massive explosion.
  • Featured as props in the play that the cast of StageFright -Aquarius- is rehearsing. One of them provides to be useful later when the Not Quite Dead killer grabs the main character by her ankle, and she uses it to set him on fire.
  • Escape from New York: A fire burning in a trashcan can be seen on the street in the scene where Romero approaches Bob Hauk to deliver an ultimatum.
  • Tekken (2010): During one of Jin Kazama's fights there's a shot of a group of people outside watching the battle on TV. They have a fire burning in a trashcan nearby.
  • Romancing the Stone has one at the abandoned fort where Ira tells Joan to come to make the exchange of the map for her sister. It's genuinely creepy.
  • Resident Evil: Afterlife: In the building where the survivors are holed up, one of these can be seen in the cafeteria when they're eating.
  • Demolition Man: Several barrels filled with fire are visible in the Absurdly-Spacious Sewer where Edgar Friendly's people live.
  • They Live!: There are a number of these burning at night in the homeless camp where Nada finds shelter.
  • The Darkest Hour: The Russian encampment is lit by a couple of burning trashcans.
  • Star Trek V: The Final Frontier: During the Federation attack on Paradise City, a number of oil drums with flames inside can be seen on the city's streets, providing light and heat.
  • Tank Girl: While Jet Girl is stealing clothing inside Liquid Silver's garage, a barrel with fire inside it can be seen in the background.
  • Starship Troopers: Rasczak's Roughnecks are having a party on the planet Tango Urilla after escaping the Bug-besieged outpost. A barrel with flames coming out can be seen in the middle of the mass of soldiers.
  • Save the Last Dance: Multiple night street scenes in Chicago feature trash can fires, including on residential streets.
  • Vagabond (1985): Unlike most settings where the trashcan bonfire is used simply to evoke a mood of poverty, here it's relevant to the plot. Two tramps in the abandoned building where Mona The Drifter is staying knock it over while fighting, starting a fire. Mona has to run for her life, and loses most of her gear, including her tent, which is a major setback.
  • Death Note (2017): Near the end of the movie, the Death Note page with Light's name in it floats down from the collapsing Ferris wheel and falls into an oilcan with a fire in it, causing the page to burn up.
  • Birds of Prey (2020): After the Black Mask captures Cassandra Cain and tries to escape with her in a car, Harley Quinn pursues him wearing roller skates. As she does so, a homeless man can be seen warming his hands over a metal can with a fire in it.

  • Discussed during the Watchmen's Strike in The Fifth Elephant, when Nobby insists you need "a big metal drum to burn old scrap wood in" on a picket line, or it's not a proper picket line.
  • Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller. A character remembers seeing a Western journalist interviewing some refugees, and years later encountering the same man around a trashcan bonfire after his own country collapsed.
  • Ironweed: Helen sees some other bums huddled around a trash can bonfire, and accepts Francis's suggestion of sleeping the night in a parked car, even though she's pretty sure she will be sexually abused by the men already sleeping in the car. (She is.)

    Live-Action TV 
  • America's Got Talent: The 2008 contestant Flambeaux used one of these as part of his Top 40 performance. He later stated that it was a callback to the days he spent wandering the streets of New York.
  • Angel. In "Lonely Hearts", the Monster of the Week tries to stick Angel's head in it, but ends up getting set on fire himself.
  • The Babylon 5 episode "Chrysalis" has a scene with, in the background, a group of homeless people huddled around a futuristic equivalent, what looks like a large orange light bulb in a frame the shape and size of an oil drum.
  • Batwoman (2019). Shown along with the requisite rubbish and graffiti to demonstrate how Gotham has become a Wretched Hive. In "Off With Her Head", Mary and Luke are searching for a car used in a crime. A junkie tells them he saw the car abandoned in an automobile junkyard, but they have trouble finding it until Mary realises that the junkie who reported it would want to stay somewhere warm. She goes to investigate a burnt-out oil drum and finds the car right next to it.
  • On Black Books, Bernard and Manny burn the children's book they write in one of these.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
    • In the Musical Episode during the "Walk Through the Fire" song, Buffy holds her hand up to a trashcan bonfire when singing, "I touch the fire and it freezes me."
    • One is also visible on Maple Court during "Hush". Exactly why is not clear, other than this trope being obligatory when Sunnydale falls into more chaos than usual.
  • Inexplicably built in Community episode "Modern Warfare", even though the game has only been going for a few hours at this point.
  • Cowboy Bebop (2021). In "Sad Clown A-Go-Go", Jet Black is Planning with Props how he intends to take down Super-Soldier Mad Pierrot, and always sets the trashbin on fire at the end, simulating how he plans to dump Pierrot in a sinkhole and kill him with gas. Turns out the 'gas' he intends to burn LaFou with isn't petrol or rocket fuel, but a Deadly Gas. Which raises the question of why Jet felt the need to set the trash can on fire.
  • Dark Angel featured this in parts of the city.
  • Doctor Who: In "The Sound of Drums", the Doctor, Martha and Captain Jack sit and talk around one while hiding out in an Abandoned Warehouse.
  • The pilot of Farscape has a variation. The burning drums have a plate of metal on top so they can be used as a brazier to cook food, probably because the scene is set on a commerce planet instead of a Wretched Hive. Or they're trying to stop the audience from asking why aliens use 44-gallon oil drums.
  • Hunter (NBC). A drug dealer is murdered by a Professional Killer, and at the end of the episode Hunter finds the man's fellow dealers commemorating his memory around a burning trashcan. They explain that this was the corner where the deceased made his first drug buy. Truth in Television as they're a handy way of disposing of evidence if you're busted.
  • Iron Fist (2017)
    • In "Target: Iron Fist", Davos is conducting a magical ceremony, and is using these in place of ceremonial braziers. Well he's in New York instead of a Himalayan monastery, so I guess he has to make do.
    • In "War Without End", Walker destroys her confidential file after she's finished reading it by setting it on fire and throwing it into a normal trashcan. Ward jokes that they should leave before they get a five hundred dollar fine.
  • Not homeless, but characters on M*A*S*H would be seen huddling around trashcan bonfires in the freezing Korean winters.
  • In the Portlandia episode "Brunch Village", there is an extremely long line to get into a popular restaurant. Those who cut in line and are sent all the way to the back of it find themselves in a sketchy neighborhood, which has trashcan bonfires, as well as an intimidating gang led by Tim Robbins.
  • The Punisher (2017)
    • The title character is shown burning his iconic outfit in the pilot episode, having completed his Roaring Rampage of Revenge. Or so he thinks...
    • At the start of "Danger Close", Frank Castle is shown with a number of homeless people warming themselves around several trashcan bonfires. At first it looks like Castle has nowhere else to hide as New York's Most Wanted, but it's later shown he's staking the place out for a rendezvous to make sure the person concerned does Come Alone.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Vengeance Factor". While searching for the Gatherers, the Enterprise crew explores a facility with several barrels full of burning material.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine: In the episode "Four Movements", Hitchcock throws multiple bags full of unknown stuff into the "Bum Barrel".
  • Is It Legal?: In the episode “Dick’s House of Horror”, Alison throws a lit match into a bonfire so that he can look at something which Bob is embarrassed about whilst he’s trying to put out the flames.
  • Titans (2018). In the Season One finale, Dick Grayson returns to Gotham to find even the respectable part of the city has become a Wretched Hive, with prostitutes, muggings, people sleeping on the street and the obligatory trashcan bonfires.

  • The video for "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing ta F' Wit" and probably many others.
  • In "Low Man's Lyric" by Metallica, which is about a homeless heroin addict, the lyrics mention a trash fire being warm.
  • The video for Elvira T's song "Odyerzhima" has shots of her standing near one.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Call of Cthulhu supplement Fearful Passages, adventure "The Iron Ghost". There's one in the 1934 Southern Pacific car.
  • Neverwhere RPG. Half-Lifers in The Arches burn cardboard in oil drums for heat.
  • The Blood of Heroes RPG. In the solo adventure, the first scene is the hero and some street people huddled around a fire in a rusty metal drum.

  • The Nostradamus-quoting homeless woman who Hannah Pitt meets while lost in the South Bronx in Angels in America is by one of these.
  • RENT had Mark and Roger set one during the opening show-stopper to stay warm when their electricity's been cut off (Later performances omit this: they now just throw their papers into the can without lighting them).

    Video Games 
  • Ashes 2063: Steel drums can be seen burning in most settlements, as a source of light and presumably warmth. With how the games take place decades after the world has ended, there may not have been much better use for those drums.
  • Bioshock Infinite:
    • Many of these can be found in the Shantytown area, where they provide not only heat but necessary light.
    • In the Burial At Sea DLC, there are several of these in the area where you find the Old Man Winter plasmid in Episode Two.
  • BloodRayne 2. In the Meatpacking District chapter, Rayne is in an area with multiple barrels that each have a fire burning in them.
  • In Dark Fall: Lost Souls, you must extinguish one of these to obtain an item from its ashes.
  • In Deus Ex, J.C. Denton approaches a group of homeless refugees clustered around an Trashcan Bonfire.
  • Blazing oil drums make several appearances in the Donkey Kong series, starting from the original arcade game.
  • Seen as early as Doom II. The flaming barrels were the only ones that didn't explode.
  • Duke Nukem 3D has these. You can shoot them and start a fire on the ground, or use them as platforms, though standing on top of them does damage.
  • Possible in Dwarf Fortress, if a fire-safe bin containing items made of certain flammable materials (specifically, ones that do not take heat damage) is exposed to sufficiently high temperatures, the items inside will burn for the better part of a year and cannot be extinguished, even if dumped into water. Such "dwarven fire" has been successfully used to boil away the entire ocean (and drastically reduce the frame rate), though it's also been proposed as a method for killing invaders (and likely ignite nearby objects or passing Dwarves).
  • A common sight in Fahrenheit as the temperature in the city keeps dropping. An action commands lets you huddle around one for warmth.
  • Fallout 3 has Trashcan Bonfires all over the place to indicate 'hey, this direction is important'. Earlier titles in the series just use them as decoration in town areas whose light may or may not be helpful in combat at night.
  • Fallout 4 allows you to build your own Trashcan Bonfires at your settlements. They don't require any power to work at all.
  • These are good places to recruit fighters for your team in Freedom Fighters (2003), especially as the game progress towards winter (New York can be pretty cold.)
  • Gaia Online has this as an item.
  • In The Godfather: The Game, these act as Exploding Barrels. Somehow.
  • In the online game Kingdom of Loathing, the Hobopolis dungeon is strewn with Trashcan Bonfires.
  • Left 4 Dead has one, and it hurts if you jump into it (not to mention the enemies if they're stupid-enough to jump on top of it).
    • Interestingly enough, when you look at the ground around it, you can see a few dollar bills, some of them partially burnt. I guess they got desperate.
    • Team Fortress 2 recently received burning oil drums as part of the swamp pack, though they have only been used in community made maps, so far.
  • In Life Is Strange: Before the Storm Rachel creates one of these when she burns a photo of her and her father then tosses it in. Then she kicks it over and accidentally starts a forest fire.
  • You see these here and there in the first two stages of MadWorld; the game refers to them as "man heaters". Because you can kill a guy by shoving them in there. If you do, announcer Kreese Kreely commends Jack for adding fuel to the fire so it can keep more hobos warm for the day.
  • Can be seen in Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven, in the mission where you have to pick up the racing car.
  • The Matrix: Path of Neo has a few of these that float around in mid-air thanks to A Glitch in the Matrix, along with a few non-floating ones.
  • Max Payne has several of these. Of course, you get the option to shoot the hobos.
  • In Penumbra: Black Plague, Philip has to invoke this to set off a sprinkler system. This also comes in handy later when having to briefly survive arctic temperatures on the surface.
  • In Rhiannon: Curse of the Four Branches, the Fire set of symbolic items must be burned in one of these.
  • In the Rock Band series, The Underground, a playable venue in London that takes place in an abandoned warehouse, features a few of these lying around.
  • Saints Row 2 will have homeless people huddled around these in the city's poor neighborhoods.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines has a lot of them what with hobos being the most common source of blood.


    Western Animation 
  • Captain Planet and the Planeteers: In "A Hero for Earth" (and the time-travel sequence in "Two Futures"), Wheeler (the US member of the team, from New York) gets his fire ring when it pops out of the burning trashcan in a fireball that then fades away.
  • In Futurama episode "Assie Come Home" there's a couple of aliens huddled around a burning trashcan, which itself is a robot warming itself to another Trashcan Bonfire.
  • In G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero episode "Cold Slither", when Cobra Commander goes to a bad part of town to meet a loan shark, several homeless men can be seen warming their hands over one.
  • In T.U.F.F. Puppy episode "Share-A-Lair" T.U.F.F. was hanging around a barrel campfire after nearly all the buildings for a base got destroyed.