The Massachusetts man who was jailed on Thursday for trying to light his ex-girlfriend’s house on fire with Cheetos can’t be faulted entirely for his scientific negligence. There appears to be a whole community of flaming Cheetos truthers that believe the scrawny, cheese-dusted corn fingerlings secretly pack a potent flammable punch. They’re not entirely wrong — Cheetos do catch fire — but then again, what greasy snack doesn’t?
The flaming Cheetos hoax is a product of hasty conclusion-jumping and broken logic. It probably doesn’t help that there is a flavor of Cheetos specifically named FLAMIN’ HOT Cheetos. Intrepid young scientists attempted to ignite these Cheetos, noticed that they do in fact catch fire, and then made the very incorrect conclusion that they must be dusted with some sort of toxic chemical that makes them especially flammable. This baseless claim, further warped and digested in the internet’s cavernous gut, is most likely what led police to find Shemroy Williams near his ex-girlfriend’s house with two lighters and an empty bag of Cheetos in his pocket.
Officials speculate he was trying to use the Cheetos as an “accelerator” — any substance that hastens the development of fire. Typical accelerators, which are most often employed either by arsonists or campers (why else would you need to start a fire so quickly?), include the usual gasoline-related substances, like butane and kerosene, and common household items like wicker and foam. In comparing the chemical makeup of Cheetos to these substances, we catch a glimpse of the inner workings of Williams’ twisted logic.
As the rigorous narration in the above video points out, a big pool of grease spills out of the pile of burning Cheetos. This, not the alleged flame-igniting cheese powder on the snack’s surface, is the real reason Cheetos are flammable. Because nine times out of ten, what we’re talking about when we talk about combustion is the coming together of oxygen, heat, and a hydrocarbon, which is pretty much any molecule containing some configuration of hydrogen and carbon. This broad group includes the fuels we pump into factories and cars, together with the fats we consume. The fat contained within a deep-fried, greasy-ass Cheeto most definitely counts.
For these same reasons, Williams could very well have used a tube of Pringles or a bag of Doritos, as this curious arsonist did:
You can’t blame Williams for attempting to be creative with his chemistry variables, but you can blame him for trying to set his ex’s house on fire. Not cool, man. Besides, if he really wanted to get revenge and not land himself in jail, he could have just sent the Cheetos over sans flame — they’ve been known to send people to the emergency room after (harmlessly) turning their stools bright red and orange.