Experiments with fire and spirits

The District store keeper “Titi” and I became instant allies. Several things indicated to me early on that he was different from most of the District’s sleepy, procedure-addicted administrative staff:

  1. The excited glint in his eye when we brought in the boxes of sachets to his store
  2. He calls me (with his own airtime) to give me updates ‘from the street’ on the sachet situation
  3. He helped me buy the small things we needed for our experiments from his own pocket (this is absolutely unheard of in this context)
  4. He is eager to get out of the office, and eager to ‘make things happen’

As soon as the first operation to impound sachet alcohol was completed, the question arose, how to get rid of them?

It would take too long to rip open each of the 44,000 sachets and empty the contents. But what would happen if we set fire to 40% alcohol in plastic? Would it explode in a dangerous whoomph? I had no idea.

First, we consulted some experts in New Zealand:


Then reassured that an explosion seemed unlikely, Titi and I opened the store, and set fire to a small sample. The results were underwhelming:img_0003

The alcohol bubbled briefly, melted a little of the plastic, then extinguished the fire.

More research suggested that the fire had to reach a higher temperature before the alcohol could successfully burn. Bring on experiment #2. Team Titi, Tessa, and Ira Perkins. Titi found an old drum. We were nervous because it appeared to contain the remains of some kind of unknown black sludge, which if you ask me, looked highly flammable. He reassured us, so we lit a wood fire in the drum, and waited for it to heat up:


This time it worked. Charred remains.

Ready to destroy the sachets. Well, almost. It turned out there were some bureaucratic barriers…

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