Whoosh! Issue 18 - March 1998

IAXS project #485
By Donald Plunkett
Copyright © 1998 held by author
1431 words

Warning and Disclaimer! (01-02)
Breath of Fire (03-04)
The Dangers (05-08)
The Technique (09-18)
The Rewards Are Not Worth the Risk (19-23)

Xena's Breath of Fire

Warning and Disclaimer!

[01] First a warning and disclaimer. Do not attempt any of these activities! They are dangerous in the extreme and could easily cost you your life. (I am not kidding here folks!) The author of this article will not be held responsible for anyone dopey enough to try any of these stunts or any damages or injuries inflicted on property or other people. Do not try this.

[02] This is for informational purposes only! I do not take any responsibility whatsoever for any injury or damage occurring from using any instructions kept in these or any other pages linked to this article.

Breath of Fire

Step one: Close eyes, jut out chin

Xena does her fire trick for the first time in CRADLE OF HOPE.

[03] One of Xena's favorite tricks for evening the odds in the occasional tavern brawl is her "breath of fire". She takes a big swig of something terribly alcoholic and blows it over a candle or torch into the faces of her antagonists. The resultant fireball gives her instant elbow room, and, additionally, frightens the pants and eyebrows off of her opponents. The alcohol content necessary to accomplish this stunt as well as the historical development of the still are subjects for other articles.

[04] As many street and circus performers can attest this phenomenon is very real. Lucy Lawless actually did this trick until recently. Due to the dangers involved, she has since stopped. I am sure the fireball will be added in digitally by the special effects crew. Whether or not the digital fireball will be produced by a real person or a computer program will have to remain a mystery for the nonce.

The Dangers

[05] The dangers involved in firebreathing are many and range from the slightly uncomfortable or embarrassing to the fatal. Burns are the first and most obvious danger. It is possible, even probable, that you will burn yourself, your surroundings, and any onlookers. If the fire were to burn back into your mouth it could collapse one or both lungs or even sear them. Neither condition is very often survivable.

[06] The fuels used can be toxic or carcinogenic. Even the most benign and commonly-used fuels can increase the chances of pleurisy or pneumonia. Outdoors, the wind can blow fuel or fire back on you or toward bystanders.

[07] The fireball produced can be more than ten feet in diameter and produce temperatures of several hundred degrees. That's more than enough to ignite paper, hair and most clothing.

[08] Indoors, the danger of igniting your surroundings is compounded. Most rooms are entirely too small to attempt this, besides the obvious fire code violations.

The Technique

Step two: Tilt head back, wear fire retardant hair gel

Xena fries a harpy.

[09] Here is a description of how it is done. Please note that you cannot learn this by reading about it. You will hurt yourself, perhaps all the way up to dead. Again, I reiterate: this is for informational purposes only.

[10] Most existing fuel materials are unsuitable for fire breathing because of toxicity. These include, but are not limited to, petroleum distillates, gasoline (petrol), lighter fluid, methanol, methyl alcohol, rubbing alcohol, charcoal lighter fluid, Coleman fuel, lamp oil with any additives for color or scent, and Lycopodium powder. Fuels that are suitable are kerosene (paraffin in the UK, also called lamp oil), ethanol (most liquors over 150 proof), custard or chocolate powder, flour, and fine sawdust. Alcohol flames are almost colorless so produce an unimpressive fireball. The powders produce very small fireballs as well. Kerosene is what most performers use because it produces a large colorful flame.

[11] Firebreathers never work alone. They always have someone standing by who is experienced in first aid and fire extinguishing. That person's sole responsibility is the safety of the performer and they must be ready and able to summon help if needed.

[12] The performance area must be suitable. The floor must not burn or absorb spilled fuel. Plastic coverings may melt or burn. There must be nothing flammable in reach of the fireball, including spilled fuel. In an outdoor setting there must be no wind. A large blanket or towel to put out flaming firebreathers will be on hand. Dampening the towels with water or a suitable fire retardant is wise. One or more large fire extinguishers suitable for fighting liquid fuel fires will be nearby and the safety assistant must know how to use them. The firebreather will have no facial hair. Their hair will be cut off or tied back securely. Many firebreathers work with no clothes on the upper body. A shirt that is soaked in fuel burns very nicely.

[13] Firebreathers never, never breathe in with a torch or fuel in their mouths, or when they are blowing fire. Firebreathers do not perform while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. Most firebreathing accidents happen to drunk amateurs trying to impress their friends at parties.

[14] Most firebreathers start by practicing with water. They hold a hand about eighteen inches in front of their face and make sure they can blow a strong spray (not a jet) of water. A cloth or towel dampened with water will be in the other hand. This is used to protect the mouth the moment they stop blowing. They use it to wipe any fuel off their face before it can catch fire.

[15] Using approximately a half shot glass full of water the performer will take a deep breath, place the water in her mouth, exhale strongly as if blowing a trumpet while pulling the head back, then close her mouth and step back immediately wiping her mouth with a damp cloth.

[16] The water must come out as a fine mist without any large drops of water. If performers are not able to form a fine mist or if they find they are ending up with water on their face, they are not ready to try flammable fuels yet. Experimentation and practice are required to perfect the technique. Only when they are one hundred percent sure will performers try it with kerosene.

[17] Finally, the firebreather will try a trick with real fuel and fire. Matches will sometimes blow out before the fuel can catch so firebreathers will use juggling torches. Lamps or large lighters will usually produce a large enough flame to keep from blowing out. If there is not enough air mixed in with the fuel, or if there are still large droplets present, the fuel itself can put out the flame.

[18] Powders work a little differently. They can be loaded into a straw or held in a spoon and blown over the flame. The fireball produced by powders is very small.

The Rewards Are Not Worth the Risk

Step three: Follow presidential advice- don't inhale.

Lucy Lawless used to do the fire-breathing stunts herself, but not anymore.

[19] Many of Xena's "many skills" can be learned in complete safety. This ain't one of them. The rewards are not worth the risks. Besides, it is much more fun to watch the Warrior Princess give some baddies a hotfoot.

[20] Here are a few websites that you might find interesting.

[21] The first is an article by Penn Gillette (of Penn and Teller) concerning his forays into fire eating. Penn made a couple of errors. First, lighter fluid is not suitable for fire eating. Second, liver damage is permanent. The liver cannot rebuild itself.

[22] These others are FAQs about fire breathing. They include some "breathtaking" photos as well.


[23] Read and heed all the warnings that you will find on each of these websites. The authors speak from experience.


Donald Plunkett Donald Plunkett
I'm former military. I collect knives, swords, and most other types of weapons. I enjoy board games, racquetball, fencing (both foil and kendo), archery, and sport judo. I've tried most types of martial arts but I've been practicing jujitsu and escrima the longest (maybe someday I'll even get them right). My little speckled snake is named "Snake" and my little speckled dog is named Shelby. I live in the White Mountains of Arizona.
Favorite episode: A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215)
Favorite line: "I'm under a lot of pressure here..." BLIND FAITH (42/218)
First episode seen: THE WARRIOR PRINCESS (H09/109)
Least favorite episode: Anything with Joxer in it, except those with Callisto in it.

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