Sometimes, stories just write themselves. Take it away, whoever runs the Austin Fire Department’s Facebook account:
“Tortilla chips are big business around these parts. We take them seriously,” the post – spotted by keprtv.com – begins, noting how vital they are for dipping into things. “So imagine how distressed we were to be called to a fire at a tortilla chip factory earlier this week…not once, but twice!”
These weren’t ordinary fires though. It seems that at a storage facility of some kind, their team were called to put out a conflagration of the chips triggered by spontaneous combustion. “Yes, you read that right,” the post adds. “Spontaneous combustion. Of tortilla chips.”
Three days later, another few boxes of the chips – technically waste pellets from the chip's manufacturing – also spontaneously burst into flames. In order to stop this madness, the team “drowned all of the other crates that had yet to burn, thereby eliminating the risk completely.”
Now, spontaneous combustion is one of those terms that has a bit of a loaded meaning. Don’t deny it: When you first saw the term, what came to mind were those tales of people just bursting into flames for no apparent reason, often leading to a fatality.
Although there is plenty of anecdotes surrounding the unexpected, abrupt, fiery deaths of people, there’s essentially no solid evidence that demonstrates it’s possible. Instead, those cases were probably caused by something else; a nearby fire, say, created by a dropped cigarette during a snooze.
In any case, there is some interesting, gruesome science as to why people burn, well, non-uniformly that you can read about here.
It’s fair to say that the spontaneous combustion of other things is scientifically sound, though. It still requires the right kinds of materials and environmental conditions for an ignition event to occur, but it can, and it has.