Yellowstone Worker Learns Hard Way What Happens When Bear Spray Explodes In Car

A worker at Yellowstone National Park learned the hard way this past week what happens when a can of bear spray explodes in your car, blowing through the windshield and launching itself more than 200 feet.

AR
Andrew Rossi

May 19, 20246 min read

A can of bear spray exploded in a vehicle in an employee lot at Yellowstone National Park, blowing through the windshield and launching about 200 feet.
A can of bear spray exploded in a vehicle in an employee lot at Yellowstone National Park, blowing through the windshield and launching about 200 feet. (From X, Formerly Twitter)

When safely compressed in its steel can ready to save someone’s life on a hiking trail in Yellowstone or Grand Teton national parks, bear spray is not only useful, it’s essential gear.

Left in a hot car, however, it becomes a ticking time bomb that could really, really — really — ruin someone’s day if it explodes, along with the car.

And if that happens while someone’s driving, it could be fatal. In short, if bear spray ends up in anyone’s face, better a bear’s than your own.

That’s a lesson a worker at Yellowstone National Park recently learned the hard way by leaving a can of bear spray on the dashboard of his vehicle.

Nobody was hurt, and while bear spray exploding in your car is bad luck if it's your car, it's too much to resist for friends with social media accounts.

"Although we are warned, I had no idea how powerful bear spray is," posted a friend of the car's owner in an closed employee thread shared on the Yellowstone Hiking public Facebook group.

The canister blew a hole in the front windshield with enough force to launch itself about 200 feet through the air and landed in a line of trees, the post says. Nobody was hurt, but the damage to the vehicle was significant.

Neither the vehicle nor the canister was excessively hot or in direct sunlight. Nevertheless, the canister’s explosion damaged the windshield, dashboard and an airbag while coating the entire interior with its potent chemical concoction.

What can one do when their friendly bear spray canister suddenly becomes more active than rocker Freddie “Boom Boom” Cannon? It’ll take more than a spritz of cologne to mask the smell.

Mace On Steroids

Cody Riser owns Cody Detail in the Yellowstone gateway community of the same name and said he’s never cleaned a car that’s had a can of bear spray explode in it. It probably wasn’t a coincidence that he got his first call to do so shortly after photos of the Yellowstone incident started circulating on social media.

“When it comes to bear spray, as far as everything that I know, personally, I just don't know if I'd want the job or not,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “Bear spray is pepper spray on steroids. It's a very, very touchy job, for sure.”

Riser has cleaned all manner of noxious, dangerous things from vehicle interiors, but said bear spray is in a class all its own.

“A lot of safety, obviously, goes into that one,” he said. “Bear spray has very potent capsaicin inside of it. It gets on your skin and in your eyes, and the fumes get inside your lungs. I've done my research, and it's one of those things that would go way further than just a full-blown detail.”

Even personal protective equipment covering everything — “any open orifices on your body” — might not be enough, in Riser’s opinion.

A hazmat suit might be necessary to ensure the safety of anyone spending prolonged periods trying to clean a bear-spray-bombed vehicle.

After the cleaning, any equipment also would have to be thoroughly cleaned. Riser said every brush, vacuum and extractor would have to be thoroughly sanitized to eliminate any remnants of bear spray to avoid contaminating other vehicles with capsaicin.

“That's one of the things I'm not going to stick my head inside there and give it a sniff and figure it out,” he said.

  • A can of bear spray exploded in a vehicle in an employee lot at Yellowstone National Park, blowing through the windshield and launching about 200 feet.
    A can of bear spray exploded in a vehicle in an employee lot at Yellowstone National Park, blowing through the windshield and launching about 200 feet. (From X, Formerly Twitter)
  • A can of bear spray exploded in a vehicle in an employee lot at Yellowstone National Park, blowing through the windshield and launching about 200 feet.
    A can of bear spray exploded in a vehicle in an employee lot at Yellowstone National Park, blowing through the windshield and launching about 200 feet. (From X, Formerly Twitter)

Inside And Out

Bear spray is an aerosol designed to spread a 1% to 2% capsaicin solution over a 30-foot area quickly. When deployed outside, the spray dissipates into the air but can still impact anyone within range.

Inside a vehicle, the spray doesn’t have many places to go. So, it could go everywhere and into everything, another reason that fuels Riser’s hesitation to detail a bear-sprayed vehicle.

“In a normal, full detail on the interior, everything gets cleaned anyways, but this is a different thing,” he said. “Let’s just say if it gets into the vents, as a detailer, I'm not going to take apart a dashboard and go all the way into the heater vents to clean that out.”

The aftermath of a bear spray canister explosion would likely require the partial or complete disassembly of a vehicle’s interior. Even the carpet would probably have to be ripped out and replaced, he said.

Riser also said it wouldn’t be a one-and-done job. The interior would have to be cleaned and re-cleaned multiple times to eliminate every remnant of capsaicin.

“Disassembling a whole vehicle to clean is just not in my job title,” he said. “It’s not that I can’t do it, but is it worth all the extra steps to go through that whole vehicle?”

Not A Hard No

Riser consulted another detailer about cleaning a bear-sprayed vehicle, who recommended hazmat equipment as “common sense” and seemed intimidated by the enormity of the task.

“It’s one of those jobs that if you haven't done it before, you look at it and say, ‘Wow, I don't know,’” Riser said.

Despite all his reservations, Riser didn’t say he’d never commit to a bear spray detail. The call he received this week eroded his professional scruples through a personal empathy for the circumstances.

“The customer mentioned something about children,” he said. “Obviously, kids cannot ride in that vehicle. Being a father, I kind of want to do it, even if I don’t know where to start with it besides the full body.”

Riser believes he’d have the perseverance to endure the ordeal so long as he was covered head-to-toe in PPE. Bear spray can deter a grizzly, but a detailer might be made of sterner stuff.

“Out of the other million things I've dealt with, bear spray has never been one of them,” he said. “It's not about me wanting or not wanting to do it. It's the purpose of it. Do I want to put myself in that position if I don't have to?”

Nevertheless, Riser was contemplating the prospect for the first time in his career.

“I've never personally dealt with bear spray,” he said. “I carry a firearm. That's my bear spray. Given where we live, you would think that would be somewhat common, but it was definitely a first today.”

Contact Andrew Rossi at arossi@cowboystatedaily.com

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Andrew Rossi can be reached at arossi@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Andrew Rossi

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