Personal, portable flamethrower raises funds, legal questions

WASHINGTON – A soon-to-launch crowdfunding project to build “the world’s first commercially-available handheld flamethrower,” is sure to heat up buzz online, as well as questions about the safety or legality of a device that spews a column of 87-octane flames 25 feet.

Chris Byars, CEO of Ion Productions Team, says the XM42 flamethrower would have several purposes.

“You can use it for clearing snow and ice, or weeds, like with a propane torch. Pyrotechnic event displays, like they use at concerts,” says Byars, in an interview with WTOP. “You can start bonfires from a great distance away, or it’s just something you can enjoy with friends – just a cool toy.”

While some might argue a jump rope might be a better example of a toy, Byars says “people have different interests — I have handheld lasers for fun, too. “

“This does seem to appeal to a decent market, though,” says Byars.

On Monday, Byars and his colleagues will begin an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign.

“I’ve always wanted to build one,” says Byars, who began working on prototypes in 2008, and built the current version with help from interested machinists.

Byars says the XM42 “shoots a flame 25 feet straight out, so it’s fairly controllable.”

The flamethrower has two tubes next to each other.

“This actually shoots a liquid stream of fuel, which is ignited as it leaves the aperture, so it can travel some distance,” says Byars. “It’s 87 octane fuel from the gas pump.”

Asked if propelling ignited gasoline is dangerous, Byars said “There’s a level of danger for any sort of product out there.”

In promotional videos, operators wear protective suits.

“We always encourage using the XM42 outdoors and away from others, and away from anything else that could be accidentally set on fire,” says Byars. “Definitely not something to be used in your typical neighborhood setting.”

Even though operation of a potentially dangerous flamethrower wouldn’t require licensing, Byars believes owners would use them responsibly.

“Misuse of any item should punish the offender, not the tool, as far as we’re concerned,” says Byars.

On its website, the company said flamethrowers are legal in 49 states, with the exception of California.

Montgomery County battalion chief Kevin Frazier, bomb squad commander with the county’s fire and explosive investigations, begs to differ.

“No, this is illegal in Maryland,” Frazier tells WTOP.

Frazier pointed to the section of Maryland’s fire code, which includes forbidden destructive devices, including “a bomb, grenade, mine, shell, missile, flamethrower, poison gas, Molotov cocktail, pipe bomb, and petroleum-soaked ammonium nitrate.”

While the product may be legally built, “if you’re in possession of that flamethrower (in Maryland), you are illegally possessing that destructive device,” according to Frazier.

He believes other states would also characterize flamethrowers as destructive devices.

Virginia’s fire code prohibits attaching a flamethrower to a motor vehicle.

When told by WTOP about the Maryland code, Byars acknowledged there may be places where owning or using flamethrowers is illegal.

“We will investigate as many laws as possible ASAP, but always have the disclaimer to check state/local laws,” said Byars.

The website now reflects flamethrowers are not legal in Maryland.

When preordering begins with the IndieGoGo campaign, the XM42 will cost $699 for brushed aluminum, or $799 for either polished aluminum or a colored powder coat.

Watch the promotional video for the XM42

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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