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What Is a Drip Torch?

Drip torches are used to conduct controlled burns.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 13 October 2014
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A drip torch is a device which is used to set fires for the purpose of conducting controlled burns or establishing firebreaks while fighting fires. These devices are used by professional firefighters and by people such as woodsmen who have received training in how to use a drip torch properly. A drip torch can be very dangerous in the hands of a user who has not received the proper training, and sale of these devices is restricted in some areas for this reason.

The drip torch consists of a reservoir of fuel attached to a nozzle. Fuel is dripped out of the nozzle and past an igniter, allowing flaming drops of fuel to hit the ground. These droplets start a fire in the area where they are deposited. Drip torches are commonly used to create a line of fire, and are much safer than alternatives such as dribbling fuel on the ground and then igniting it.

As one might imagine, there are some safety precautions involved in using a drip torch. The torch itself has a check valve to control the flow of fuel through the igniter, as well as valves and safety features which prevent fire from traveling backward up the nozzle and igniting the tank. Highly stable fuels such as kerosene are often used to reduce the risk of unwanted ignition, and the drip torch is insulated to prevent the contents from getting too hot.

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While using a drip torch, it is necessary to wear full protective gear, including fire-resistant clothing, face protection, heavy safety gloves, and sturdy boots. Use of torches is also coordinated to ensure that the location of everyone on scene is known, and to confirm that everyone is coordinating their activities. Situations such as trapping someone inside a fire are highly undesirable, and are avoided with elaborate safety protocols.

Training in the use of a drip torch is usually provided at schools where people learn to fight wildfires. Members of urban firefighting organizations may also become familiar with these devices, as do rural firefighters. Forestry schools also teach students about how to use drip torches as part of forestry management, as these torches can be used to ignite brush piles and for controlled burns conducted for various reasons. Such devices are usually used in a group, with members of the group looking out for the safety of others and intervening if a problem develops.

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titans62
Post 4

Has anyone here ever seen or used a weed torch? When I lived out in the western US for a few years, a lot of the ranchers used them to clear the weeds and grass around their fences. I guess it was to stop a wildfire from spreading through their land and killing the grass they used to feed their cattle.

It sort of works like a drip torch. The set up all looks the same, but instead the fire comes out more like a blowtorch. It can burn a big patch of grass all at once.

Now I'm wondering if drip torches have some sort of setting that controls the size of the drip coming out. Is there some way to change it from a drop to a spray so it could act like a weed torch?

Izzy78
Post 3

The article mentions wearing heavy boots, but when I was helping with a prescribed burn on a forest one time, we all had to wear metal leg covers. I don't remember what the name for them, but there was a special term. They reminded me of medieval armor. If you were just wearing boots and some of the fire fell on them, it could have easily caught your boot laces or pants on fire.

cardsfan27
Post 2

@jmc88 - I've actually used a drip torch before when I was helping with a prairie burn in Illinois. The way that works is you use the drip torch to make a perimeter around the prairie to stop the fire from spreading outside that area, then you set the whole thing on fire. It is very impressive watching it burn.

When you burn the perimeter, the person with the drip torch goes along with a couple of people with rubber flappers. When the fire burned area gets to the right width, they put it out, and someone else with a backpack sprayer full of water sprays the area to make sure all of the embers are out. It is a very controlled process.

jmc88
Post 1

I always thought it would be fun to use a drip torch. I was wondering when I was reading this, though, how does the drip torch stop the fire from spreading to other spots? Whenever the ball of fire came down, it would still be able to spread the fire unless it got put out somehow. Is there usually someone else around spraying water or something to make the fire line?

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