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Tortilla Chips in Texas Are Spontaneously Combusting – For Real

If you live in or have traveled to any part of Texas during the sweltering summer months, you know that everything is bigger in Texas — especially the extreme heat. Austin firefighters had to deal with a very bizarre incident recently when they responded to a call from Paqui, a tortilla chip company. This story was originally reported in Texas Monthly magazine.

On July 12, the firefighters responded to a call that boxes of chips had caught on fire. When the firefighters arrived at the scene of the factory, they were amazed at what they saw — boxes were spontaneously combusting right before their very eyes.

The fire was fairly small and easily contained, and the firefighters left once they had the mini-blaze under control. Three days later, the fire station got the same call. This time, even more boxes were on fire at the factory. What was going on?

The boxes were filled with tortilla chip residue, the small fragments that are considered tortilla chip waste from bagging regular-sized tortilla chips. As it turns out, the Austin fire department and Paqui figured out what was going on. According to Austin Fire Department spokesperson Michelle Tanzola, the factory had recently changed its plant operations procedures to handle the processing of the tortilla waste product. They ground the tortilla chip waste down into a fine powder, packed it in boxes and stored them outside the factory — in the 100-plus degree sun.

The issue was that the oil from the chips, the finely ground chip powder, the cardboard boxes and the hot Texas temperatures made for the perfect combination for spontaneous combustion.

After the incident, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is involved, and very likely to tell the factory to change their chip procedures. No one was hurt, and there was no property damage to the factory or nearby cars or other buildings because the fires occurred outside in an open area.

After the second visit, the Austin firefighters made sure to hose down all the remaining chip boxes to prevent further spontaneity. There haven’t been any additional calls. As Tanzola put it, “No news is good news.”

Austin is not the only bizarre heat-related incident. Several years ago, in Germany, an employee at the Eraso soup factory died after being cooked to death. Yes, you read that right. The man had climbed into one of the giant soup cauldrons to clean it. Unfortunately, the giant lid of the cauldron closed while he was still inside. The disinfection process fired up, which involves the cauldron filling with steam. The autopsy revealed that the man had literally been steamed to death.


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Jacqueline Havelka

Jacqueline is a rocket scientist turned writer. She covers health, science and tech news for Citizen Truth. In her first career, she managed experiments & data on the Space Station & Shuttle.

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