Severe burns due to a catastrophic failure of a modified driptorch: A case report

Dr Peter Meier1, Ms  Anna  Goodwin-Walters1,2

1State Burns Service of Western Australia , 2Fiona Stanley Plastic and Reconstructice Service

Introduction: Driptorchs are tools used in agriculture to intentionally ignite fires for burning off of wheat stubble. The driptorch comprises of a fuel reservoir canister connected to a spout containing a loop designed to prevent fuel igniting in the canister. A breather valve allows oxygen into the canister as it exits via the spout, and the wick at the end of the spout drips ignited fuel, usually a mix of petrol and diesel onto the wheat stubble (Figure 1). Homemade driptorches and adaptions to commercial driptorches are routinely undertaken and attached to farming vehicles.

Objectives: This is the first case report of a severe burn reported in the literature related to catastrophic failure of a homemade driptorch modified and attached to a vehicle.

Methods: A 57-year farmer was airlifted via helicopter with TBSA 10% burns to his face, right arm and flank after a modified driptorch ignited (Figure 2).  The modified driptorch included a fuel canister combined with a nine-liter LPG cylinder as a continuous ignition source, with a plastic spout and wick without non-return valves, attached to his vehicle tray. After the spout became blocked, the farmer was on the tray removing the blockage from the spout, fuel sprayed on him and tray of the utility igniting both the vehicle and the farmer (Figure 3, 4).

Conclusion: Driptorches are dangerous pieces of farming equipment and strict guidelines and standards should be mandatory to ensure their modification and safe practice is implemented in the agricultural and forestry industries.

Service Registrar, State Burns Service WA

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