COON RAPIDS, Minn. (WCCO) — An abandoned Firestone dealership garage is the perfect setting to demonstrate the destructive power of an aerosol can.

It’s where a controlled fire would show just how fast and powerful a simple can of hairspray or paint can be.

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“What people don’t realize is every aerosol can, 80 percent of them have between three to five ounces of butane or propane in them,” said St. Paul Fire Investigator Jamie Novak.

Novak teaches fire behavior to firefighters across the nation and the world. His controlled burns and demonstrations are recorded on video cameras to use in the classroom.

But it’s the average homeowner, with perhaps shelves filled with spray cans that Novak hopes to reach with this message

“Even a hairspray can will explode,” he said.

With the help of the Coon Rapids Fire Department, Novak sets up his demonstration in the vacant cement building. Small video cameras are mounted on tripods along the floor and even attached to the ceiling beams to capture the point of ignition.

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A mattress is ignited on the floor to produce the heat that soon reaches two shelves lined with an assortment of aerosol cans. Within just two minutes, the first cans start exploding — filling the room with orange fireballs.
The force of the explosions rattle a reinforced glass waiting room wall. One of the cans shoots the entire length of the garage, smashing into the glass and leaving a large crack.

Throughout the garage, metal shrapnel is scattered about after easily traveling more than 75 feet.

“When we are arriving at a fire is when the cans are going off. We’re sending crews in there to put out the fire, so they can get hurt by the cans flying,” said Coon Rapids Fire Marshal Todd Williams.

It’s not only open flames that produce sufficient heat to ignite the cans and send them flying like small missiles. When aerosol cans are placed near a heat source, such as an electric stove top, the pressurized cans quickly explode with potentially deadly force.

Novak said the message to homeowners is simple.

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“We’re not saying that aerosol cans are dangerous and to throw them out. You need to respect them and make sure you keep them away from a heat source. Don’t be throwing them in a fireplace thinking you’re going to burn them or in a burn barrel,” Novak said.