You may have seen a viral video recently of a man dressed like Cousin Eddie from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation melting the snow off his driveway with a flamethrower. Where’d he get it, and does it actually work?
Can You Flamethrower Driveway Snow Away?
Heat is the enemy of snow, and applying a whole lot of it at once will get the job done. In fact, in a roundabout—and absolutely ridiculous—way, you’re using the sun to melt the snow when you use a flamethrower.
Flamethrowers use fossil fuels, a dense energy source created by ancient organic matter that is compressed and concentrated over millions of years in the earth’s crust. Some of us wait for the present-day sun to melt the snow, and some of us—like Timothy Browning, seen in the video below—prefer to call on the sunshine of yesteryear.
We’re presenting that argument tongue-in-cheek, of course, because it’s a technically-true but a bit-of-a-stretch argument to claim shooting a flaming gasoline and diesel mixture on your driveway is really using sunshine. So let’s ask the important question instead: does it work?
In December 2020, Browning’s video went viral after he shared it on Facebook. In the video, he’s dressed up like Cousin Eddie from Christmas Vacation, with a white robe, black shoes and socks, and the whole outfit right down to the fur-lined trooper hat and cigar.
But instead of holding the waste hose of an RV as Cousin Eddie does in the film, he’s holding a flamethrower—and clearing snow off his driveway in the process. The sheer novelty of it has ensured his video has made the rounds every winter since.
Would it be practical for the two feet of snow that I had to dig myself out of just the other day? Not at all. The handheld models only have a run time of about 30-60 seconds—you’ll note the video above lasts about 60 seconds—and the back-pack models only have a run time of a few minutes.
That might be enough for a small driveway with a dusting of snow (which is what we see in Browning’s video), but you’re not going clear inches and inches of snow away. In such cases, you just end up with a bunch of partially melted and sooty snow.
No doubt about it, there’s a dramatic and fun wow factor, but when you’re done, you may end up with some unburnt fuel coating your driveway or sidewalk. If there’s any question about whether that happens, just look closely in the background; there are little pools of burning fuel on the ground.
The video below, from The King of Random, shows just how ineffective using different kinds of flame throwers is on snow. Most of the heat goes up into the air, and the snow melts slowly in a very localized fashion.
But the better question is would it have been safe to do on my driveway with flammable landscaping and a wood fence tightly bordering it? Probably not. And that’s likely the case for anyone who doesn’t have a driveway with a whole lot of open space around it.
You could easily argue the number of situations in which “would it be safe?” applies to a flamethrower capable of throwing a 25-30 foot flame is very small.
Can You Legally Buy a Flamethrower?
Maybe the video of Browning clearing his driveway made you think, “That is the most insane and wasteful thing I have ever seen!” Or maybe it made you think, “I need a flamethrower!” And if you’re in the latter group, you’re in luck.
It would be easy to assume that Browning’s flame thrower was either some piece of military surplus he got his hands on or a homemade contraption he banged out in a mad scientist maker space, but surely not a legal thing he just slapped a credit card on the table to buy.
Turns out, in the United States, there are no federal regulations against flame throwers. Only two states have regulations against them, California and Maryland—local ordinances may vary, so check your state and local laws before shopping.
But if you’re in any of the remaining 48 states and there are no local ordinances against it, you can live out your Cousin Eddie snow-melting fantasy by visiting XM42.com, finding a distributor, and buying the XM42 flamethrower seen both in the photo above.
But again, it’s not that effective (or safe) as a snow-clearing tool. Further, depending on the bells and whistles, it’ll run you $600-1200 or more. If you’re dying for a novelty item and you have the right rowdy crowd to show it off to, maybe that’s a worthwhile purchase. But for most folks, it’s probably best left as an entertaining viral video.
What Should You Buy Instead?
If you’re willing to spend hundreds of dollars to clear snow off your driveway and you’re also willing to forgo doing it with a 25-foot flame, there are much better ways to spend your money, like buying an actual snow blower.
Further, if you want a fast way to deal with the kind of light powder seen in the viral video above, you really can’t beat using a good battery-powered electric leaf blower.
I absolutely love mine for the task. Any time we get light snow, I just slap a battery on my leaf blower and blow the powder snow off my car and driveway.
Finally, you’re in luck if you have a solid use case for deploying fire in your ice and snow-clearing endeavors.
While using a legit flamethrower that belches a mixture of flaming gasoline and diesel fuel all over your driveway and sidewalk isn’t the cleanest or safest way to go about it, there is a practical way to use fire in a cleaner and more controlled fashion.
They’re called “flame weeders,” and they’re simply a long wand you hook up to a propane tank. They come in two sizes, a light-duty wand that attaches to a small propane tank (like the kind you use for a camp stove) and a heavy-duty wand that attaches to a 20-pound tank (like the kind you use for a grill).
You can use the modest flame at the end to kill weeds without pesticides in the summer, and in the winter, you can use it to deice surfaces without using salt—though if you’re buying it mostly for weeds and sometimes for ice, I highly recommend getting the light-duty option as the flame is much narrower and better suited for precision.
When I get really stubborn ice buildup in areas where I don’t want to dump tons of salt (accelerating the wear and tear on the underlying concrete in the process), I’ll use a flame weeder to gently melt the ice away. In fact, when talking to Snopes, Browning noted that he and his son had shoveled the bulk of the snow but busted out the flame thrower to melt the ice before relatives came to visit.
While it’s not as environmentally friendly as just waiting for mother nature to melt it, the propane burns clean and doesn’t coat the ground with soot and bits of diesel fuel.
It’s not as dramatic by any measure. But so far, I haven’t burned my house down or had the neighbors call the cops, concerned I’d finally snapped under the strain of holiday shopping and party planning. That seems like a fair trade-off to me, all the ice melting with none of the snowy chats with concerned officers.