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Smoke bombs are a form of fireworks that are designed to release considerable amounts of smoke once the device is activated. In some cases, the smoke bomb is designed for use as a marking or signaling device that can help to identify a location. At other times, the bomb may be utilized as part of the special effects utilized in a stage or theatrical production. The smoke bomb can also be used as a means of obscuring the line of vision for a short period of time.
The basic functionality of a smoke bomb involves using some type of oxidizing agent, such as potassium chlorate, along with a fuel source and some type of moderating compound. All these elements are teamed with an organic dye in powdered form. When the device is ignited or activated, the dye is released into the open air and immediately converts into a form of smoke that blankets the area for a short period of time.
There are three basic designs for a smoke bomb. The smoke ball is a round device that is often constructed with a clay shell. The compounds within the smoke ball release when the ball is shattered, and can provide a credible amount of smoke for several seconds. This type of smoke bomb usually has a limited range and is ideal for use in creating a quick diversion or for use in stage productions.
Smoke candles provide the effect of creating a field of smoke for a longer period of time. Usually cylindrical in shape, the smoke candle has the appearance of an oversized firecracker. When activated, a smoke bomb of this type will continue to produce a thick cloud of smoke for five to ten minutes with ease. The candles are often useful as a smoke testing device in various industrial applications, as well as for creating a credible smoke screen for use by law enforcement or in some types of outdoor games.
The smoke canister is the third common configuration for the smoke bomb. Sometimes known as a smoke grenade, the canister is activated by removing a pin, much in the manner of a grenade. Once the pin is removed, this type of smoke bomb will emit a steady flow of smoke for an extended period of time. Smoke canisters are ideal for signaling situations, such as in military maneuvers.
In general, the smoke bomb is intended to only produce a visual effect. The vast majority of the devices are specifically designed to be safe smoke bombs that will only generate a minimum amount of heat. However, smoke bombs can be designed that release eye irritants and other elements for use in specific situations, often related to military or law enforcement procedures.
When I was in the Army, one of my jobs was to activate smoke bomb canisters after our chopper landed on the ground. I had different colors of smoke, and the other chopper pilots would know what the conditions were like on the ground before they'd try to land. If they saw green smoke, they knew it was safe to land. If I pulled the red smoke bomb canister, they knew there were enemy combatants in the area and they'd have to pull up fast.
I still like to buy smoke bombs from military surplus stores and entertain my kids with them. They put out a lot more smoke than the kind the fireworks stores sell.
When I was a kid I could buy smoke bombs at any store that sold Class C fireworks. They weren't as impressive as the fireworks that exploded or flew into the sky, though. We'd mostly throw smoke bombs during the day to scare other kids on the street. Sometimes we'd put them in containers, mostly garbage cans, and wait for adults to notice.
The thing that surprised me about those small smoke bombs is that they often worked under water. Once the fuse was lit and the smoke started coming out, they could be thrown into a river or pool and still produce a lot of smoke. The same was true with bottle rockets. As long as the fuse was lit, they could go under the water and explode. We used to call it "smoke on the water".