Late last year, videos of people eating a single chip and suddenly gasping for air or fumbling for a glass of milk took over the internet. With its “One Chip Challenge,” the tortilla chip company Paqui dared adventurous souls to eat a chip laced with the Carolina Reaper, the hottest pepper in the world. But last week, firefighters from the Austin Fire Department had to deal with a different kind of hot chip—the kind that spontaneously combusts.
On July 12, AFD responded to a call from a tortilla chip factory in South Austin, where boxes of chip residue had caught on fire. When firefighters arrived on the scene, they saw more boxes of the waste ignite right before their eyes. The firefighters put out the small but bizarre blaze. But then, three days later, they returned to the factory after even more boxes of tortilla chips combusted in the sun. This time, firefighters doused the burning chips and remaining boxes of tortilla chip waste with water to prevent further chip explosions.
A post on AFD’s Facebook page explains that the factory was trying out a new way of handling their tortilla chip waste, astutely noting that it “didn’t work out so well.” Michelle Tanzola, an AFD spokesperson, says that the factory’s disposal method was to grind the chips down into a fine powder, pack the powder into boxes, and then store them outside the factory. Tanzola says that the powder combined with the oil from the chips, their cardboard packaging, and 100-plus-degree temperatures to create spontaneously combusting tortilla chips.
Whether the factory will need to change their tortilla chip disposal methods is an issue for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to address with the factory. Luckily, with both incidents, the fires were outside, so there was no property damage or injuries. After hosing down the remaining chips, AFD hasn’t fielded any further calls from the factory. “No news is good news,” Tanzola says.