Damage, Injuries as Teens Set Fires Using Popular Deodorant Axe Body Spray

Photo: kids using AXE deodorant to build flame throwers

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

All it would take to make a huge and rather entertaining fireball was $10 and a trip to the supermarket.

The plan was to take two cans of the popular -- and highly flammable -- deodorant, Axe body spray, drop them in a bucket with lighter fluid and fireworks and enjoy the show -- a so-called "Axe bomb."

Photo: kids using AXE deodorant to build flame throwers
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Rather than the pyrotechnic display he had hoped for, Cyrus, a 17-year-old high school junior from San Diego, saw instead the inside of a police cruiser and then the inside of a courtroom.

"The fire got really big. We tried to put it out and that's when the police came," said Cyrus, using only his first name because he is a minor. "We tried to run away, but the cops caught us. I went to court, got six months probation, 40 hours of community service and a 6 p.m. curfew.

"I'm 17 and I have a probation officer," he said while volunteering at the Burn Institute, a California-based health agency dedicated to reducing the number of burn injuries.

Cyrus said that since working at the institute, part of his court-ordered community service, he has realized just how dumb and dangerous playing with fire can be.

"Seeing burn victims puts everything in perspective about what could have happened," he said.

There's nothing new about teenagers using flammable household products as accelerants to set things on fire.

The popular aerosol deodorant, Axe body spray, is produced by Unilever and marketed to young men aged 18 to 24 with saucy ads that promise to improve their chances with young women.

The product is so ubiquitous among adolescent boys, that the City of Minneapolis School Board last month approved a measure to educate students about another perceived danger related to overuse of Axe and similar products -- asthma attacks induced in classmates forced to breathe the heavily perfumed air.

But increasingly, fire departments and burn centers say, boys purchase the product for more nefarious purposes -- to turn the highly flammable contents into explosives and miniature flamethrowers.

Axe is a product as flammable and potentially misused as any similar aerosol found in the kitchen or bathroom of a typical American home.

But, say those keeping an eye on juvenile arson trends, the product is particularly popular among middle school and high school aged boys, making it an increasingly popular choice for those looking to experiment with setting fires.

Axe Arsons on the Rise

Adding to its popularity in juvenile arsons is that age group's affinity with posting their mischief on the Internet, leading kids to one-up each other with increasingly dangerous stunts posted online at sites like YouTube.

"Over the last two to four months, we've seen more than a dozen teenagers arrested for arson because of incidents involving Axe body spray," said Cindy Matthews, spokeswoman for the West Metro Fire Department in Lakewood, Colo., a suburb of Denver.

This week, two boys aged 10 and 11 were charged with arson in Lakewood when they lit a bush on fire "that spread and ignited the side of an apartment building," said Matthews, who added that no one was hurt or injured.

The two primary ingredients in the pressurized four-ounce cans of Axe are alcohol and butane, both of which are highly flammable.

"Using aerosol cans to start fires is nothing new, but because this spray is so popular and available to this age group, we're seeing an increased use specifically around Axe," she said.

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