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Vapor Trail

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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.



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    Anime and Manga 
  • Happens in both the air-filled domes and IN SPACE! in Macross Frontier.
  • Sherlock Hound: In "The Stormy Getaway", Inspector Lestrade's test car is sabotaged so it is leaking fuel. Smiley tosses away a cigarette that lands in the trail of fuel; igniting it and blowing up the car.

    Comic Books 
  • 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.
  • In Detective Comics #44, Harvey Bullock does a Reusable Lighter Toss to ignite a trail of fuel leaking from a wrecked vehicle: creating an explosion that allows Detective Yip to fake her death.
  • 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.
  • Jonah Hex pulls one in Hex #18, lighting the fuel with his trusty cigarillo.
  • 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.
  • Marv does this to a wrecked car in the Sin City story, Just Another Saturday Night.
  • In the Swords Of Sorrow: Lady Zorro and Black Sparrow one-shot, Black Sparrow lights her lighter and tosses it into a pool of gasoline leaking from a wrecked car to cause an explosion to allow her Lady Zorro to escape from the demon Shard.
  • 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.

    Comic Strips 
  • 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."

  • In Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, sparks from the burning Ferris wheel ignite a trail of oil leaking from the barrel Selina punctured with a batarang. The flames burn back along the trail to the barrels, causing an explosion.

    Film—Live Action 
  • Happens accidentally to one team of racers in The Gumball Rally. A muffler falls off a car and bounces under their van where it punctures their extra-large fuel tank. Another motorist then tosses a cigarette out his window, which ignites the trail of leaking fuel, which catches up to the van and...BOOM!
  • 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.
  • In Even Lambs Have Teeth, Katie and Sloan soak the Pastor of gasoline and leave a trail leading away from him. They toss a lit match into the trail so he can see his fiery doom approaching him.
  • Spells the end for the racist redneck in Final Destination 4.
  • 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 during the shootout on the construction site in Lethal Weapon 3
  • Done by James Bond to a fuel tanker in Licence to Kill.
  • This is how Porter exacts his final vengeance on all the bad guys in the movie Payback. "You were right not to trust me."
  • In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Toht ignites a trail of spilled booze on the bar in an attempt to incinerate Indy. The flame burns its way along the entire length of the bar and Indy only just manages to get his head out of the way in time.
  • An exploding aircraft in Speed.
  • The final scene of Spy Fiction.
  • 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.
  • In Torque, a vapor trail chases down a bike moving several hundred mph.
  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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 
  • Angel did this in the season 2 episode "Redefinition" with a lit cigarette; justifying a Random Smoking Scene in the process.
  • In the CSI: Miami episode "Dishonor," the killer ignites the gasoline-soaked victim by dropping a lit match into a trail of gasoline.
  • CSI: NY: In "Second Chances," the Victim of the Week is doused in gasoline when he is run over by a car and the fuel tank punctures in the collision. The trail of gas is then ignited by a cigarette discarded by a passerby (who is on his way to commit another crime) and burns back to set fire to the victim.
  • The Doctor Blake Mysteries: At the start of "A Good Drop," an arsonist spreads a trail of sump from a drum in the back of his ute, then ignites it with a Reusable Lighter Toss.
  • Father Brown: In "The Lair of the Libertines," the killer punctures the petrol tank of the motorcycle being used to leave the hotel. When it runs out petrol and stalls, the killer ignites the trail of petrol with a Reusable Lighter Toss. The bike explodes, barely missing incinerating Lady Felecia and Mrs McCarthy.
  • The Flash (2014): In "Crazy For You," sparks from a fallen power line ignite a trail of gasoline leaking from a crashed car.
  • Midsomer Murders: In "Crime and Punishment," the killer douses a barn in petrol and then leaves a trail of petrol leading away from the barn. The killer then ignites the trail to set fire to the barn.
  • 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.

    Music Videos 

    Theme Parks 

    Video Games 
  • In Bayonetta, the title character slams a tanker into the defeated Cardinal Virtue of Temperance by way of another angel and creates the leak via a fountain statue that pisses the gasoline all over the poor bastard for that extra sadistic touch. It doesn't work. When the fire goes out after a brief second, Bayonetta just heaves a sigh and does it the "boring" way.
  • In Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, an electrical spark ignites a puddle of spilled machine oil in a gas station garage, leading to the entire station exploding spectacularly.

    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 
  • 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.
  • In the Justice League episode "Fury", fallen power lines ignite a trail of spilled fuel leading to a downed helicopter.
  • The Secret Saturdays: Happens to Doyle when his jet pack springs a leak in "Cryptid vs. Cryptid".


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