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DEET Fire

A southern woman was about to go outside and clear some brush from her yard. Before going outside she applied some insect repellant to her legs and arms known as diethyl toluamide, commonly referred to as DEET. She was wearing shorts and a short-sleeve shirt and applied the DEET to her exposed skin. She testified that as she set fire to some dry brush her legs and arms caught fire. She experienced second-degree burns over a good portion of her legs.

Chemaxx was asked to investigate the 100% DEET insect repellant and determine if it could account for the skin fire.

Pure DEET is not generally considered flammable and there were no warnings on the insect repellant dispenser. For example, the flash point of DEET is reported to be 311° F (155° C). However, like many combustible liquids, their flammability can be increased when the liquid's surface-to-volume ratio is increased. Applying DEET to the skin increases the surface-to-volume ratio and also the flammability.

Experiments using pigskin to simulate human skin were performed. The results, presented in the videos below, demonstrate that DEET will enhance the flammability of skin.


Pigskin without DEET (Press Play Button)


Pigskin with DEET (Press Play Button)

Dr. Fox is a Certified Fire & Explosion Investigator and chemical expert with extensive experience in OSHA, EPA and DOT chemical regulations and chemical safety. He specializes in complex industrial chemical accidents, fires and explosions as well as chemical-related consumer product injuries.