Mythbusters accidentally shatter windows in small town

Our pals at Mythbusters made a big bang in the the small town of Esparto, California. Their aim was to "knock the socks off" a mannequin with an explosion of ammonium nitrate. The boom blew out some residents' windows that Mythbusters replaced. One woman whose glass was shattered was delighted by the surprise. Others, not so much. From
"Course all the neighbors ran out into the street. We didn't know what was going on," said Paul Williams, who heard the explosion...

Williams said the school and others in town should have been notified the blast was going to happen.

Chief Barry Burns, of Esparto Fire Department, had several firefighters on hand for the explosion. He said he made the decision not to notify anyone in town for safety sake.

"Mythbusters is supposed to be a really popular show. Everybody would have been out there. We would have had to cancel it because it would have been too dangerous," Burns said.
Mythbusters 'Big Bang' Shatters Windows (Thanks, Jess Hemerly!)


  1. I think they should do more than just replace the windows! Good grief. You realize that if a teenager from that town had done the same thing, he’d’ve been charged with reckless endangerment, even if he* replaced the glass.

    *OK, or she. IME it’s usually boys who have the brontomania gene, though I admit to knowing a couple of exceptions personally.

  2. #1 – If the teenager had made official arrangements with the fire department to run a controlled experiment, for school lets say, and they had the ability to pay off all the damages, said teenager would probably be let off free and easy.

    As a side note, what the hell is the “brontomania gene”? I’m assuming it’s got something to do with the urge to blow stuff up, and I’ve known just as many females as males who like a good explosion, bonfire, or firecracker.

  3. Yes, please do alert the school children. Then invite them to come and see some REAL science happening!

  4. Agree with #1, it would be nice if they recognized an obligation to pay for the inconvenience and potential endangerment. It’s possible their lawyers told them not to raise that issue for fear of a lawsuit that with knock THEIR socks off.

    Seems to me that if you’re going to do this particular experiment, you ought to get someone clueful to build heavy blast-deflection walls to try to send the shock wave mostly upward and/or absorb as much of it as possible. It’s not as if there aren’t blasting professionals out there whom they could/should have consulted.

    Definitely a case of “We’re _trained_ maniacs. That doesn’t mean we know how to do this sort of thing safely, it just means we’ve signed a waiver so the producer isn’t responsible if we kill ourselves. When we say not to try this at home, we mean it — we shouldn’t be trying it either.”

  5. Announcing an explosives demonstration will guarantee a crowd of onlookers. Hell, you could announce that you were digging a hole and people would probably gather around to watch.

  6. wonder how funny this would be if someone died because of these douches. On a previous show, they tested different types of firearms shot from inside a pressurized aircraft cabin through the window to determine what caliber gun would be required to shatter the window and cause catastrophic sudden decompression of an airliner at altitude.

    Some of the stunts they pull are entertaining but arguably, they are irresponsible.

  7. Lucifer, you should take a close look at how you come off before you call anyone else a “douche”!

    From the episode 38 synopsis:

    REVISITED: Explosive decompression can occur when a bullet is fired through the fuselage of a pressurized airplane (From Episode 10)


    The Build Team tested the effect of air rushing past an open bullet hole, and surmised that the extra internal pressure caused by this would still not be enough to cause an explosive decompression.

    …so they determined you couldn’t depressurize a cabin with a firearm round, not even a .50 cal. You need something that will do a lot more damage than putting a hole in a window.

    Chances are, if a small hole could cause complete loss of cabin pressure, Mythbusters wouldn’t have been the first to discover it.

  8. One effect of explosions is that beside shattering windows the broken glass goes flying. After the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki a lot of time was spent picking pieces of glass out of people’s faces and other exposed skin.
    A lot of this must go on presently due to military actions and suicide bombers. The bombers lace their explosives with nails and metal scraps so as to maim as many as possible.
    I live near the petro-chemical complexes east of San Francisco. One night 30 years ago there was an explosion in Richmond that should have shattered our windows but didn’t.

  9. @7 Lucifer

    “wonder how funny this would be if someone died because of these douches.”

    I did some wondering and decided that is a rather silly attack at the Mythbusters. A Harlem Globetrotters game would also be less funny if someone died.

    When the Mythbusters are dealing with explosions, they alert local authorities, and have trained explosives experts helping them. There isn’t really much more than they can do beyond that (they could not use explosives, but that also falls into the category of less fun).

  10. The claim that these guys are irresponsible is bogus. The worked with the fire department to try to assure safe conditions, and as far as I know this is the first report than any Mythbusters stunt created any damage to a third party.

    Any attempt to prosecute them for “reckless endangerment” when they ran their test with the official participation of city officials would fail.

    On the other hand, you’d think by now these guys would have enough experience with explosives not to underestimate the potential for broken windows and the like.

  11. 500 pounds of ammonium nitrate a mile from town is pushing it. They really should have expected the concussive waves to do damage. But obviously their locations manager cleared it with the fire chief so technically their hands are clean.

  12. Roy – with nearby explosions, yes, you get flying glass from the shock wave. I don’t think they were that close… This was probably a case of subsonic vibrations causing the glass to break, which most likely meant cracks and piles of glass in the window frame.

    It all depends on how strong the glass is and how it is already stressed. Big booms from the proving grounds in my area have cracked windows at 10 miles.

  13. I can’t believe I didn’t notice this before: Missing an ‘h’ in the first word of the title.

  14. @#4
    Please don’t call what mythbusters does “real” science.
    It’s entertaining, it’s presented in a somewhat logical manner, but not what I would call “real” science, unless you would care to re-define science.

    On the other note. Even when you don’t have permission and you let off a boom that breaks a window or two you don’t always get busted. Similiar incident involving liquid nitrogen in a pop bottle in a pool of water gave the neighbours a good shake at the university. Just a polite please don’t do that. Sometimes people are great.

  15. Yeah, if the concussion was actually enough to blow in windows a mile distant, anyone standing closer would have had some serious lung damage. More likely it’s just cracking/breaking caused by vibration. Much like broken windows from a supersonic fighter plane passing several thousand feet overhead. My dad tells me that used to happen from time to time when he was a kid, before they banned supersonic flights over occupied land. Costly, but not disastrous.

  16. Mythbusters should have an experiment where they test if Mythbusters is reckless or not.

    This test should include a truck full of kittens.

  17. @1, @5 and @7:

    Try not to sensationalize it any more than it already is.

    A handful of broken windows were replaced. No data on if these windows had previous damage. No data on if all window replacements were legitimately caused by the explosion. No data on if the glass broke in-frame, or was propelled inward by a shockwave.

    Any time M5 does segments involving explosives they call in ex-FBI or ex-EOD guys who are licensed to handle the material and advise on precautions. They bring in local authorities for permits and emergency response.

    M5 KNOWS they are not experts at this stuff. That’s why they call in people who are and rely on their advice. If you want to scream and shout at someone, scream and shout at their technical advisers for this segment.

    Bottom line: M5 did everything they should have done. EOL

  18. It’s not as if there aren’t blasting professionals out there whom they could/should have consulted.

    Every time they do experiments involving high explosives they bring in a retired FBI demolitions expert to set the boomstuff up.

  19. i like explosions, but only when i’m expecting them. i would’ve been furious about having to put up with something like this, whether my property was damaged or not. speaking of that, I wonder if mythbusters is also gonna pay for all the cracked foundations and leaky basements 5, 10 years from now?

  20. @21 – If the vibrations were barely able to break a handful of windows, what makes you think they were on a scale powerful enough to crack foundations?

    And who would you be furious at? M5 for setting up the experiment, or your local FD for choosing not to release the information?

    Direct your anger properly.

  21. I have to admit I enjoy the program. They are a time warp back to my 14 year old self. Back yard rockets with acetylene propulsion. Hand made tesla coils to zap the unsuspected parent. We were heading for the Moon. Got there too. They could benefit from some reality oversight every so often, as I did when my local Police and Fire Department educated me about the law of gravity. I wasn’t thinking about what happened when the burning stuff came down.

  22. I fail to understand why everyone in the above comments is calling each other showers or rinses. It makes no sense whatever. You DO know that’s what a douche is, don’t you?

  23. @26: In this context, it’s short for “vaginal douche”, which is insulting, I suppose, because it’s “icky”.

  24. sapph:
    either you’ve never lived near construction, or the construction blasting directs significantly more energy into the ground than the air, compared to mythbusters. but where *I* am, there has always been blasting, and there have always been foundation problems. not too many broken windows…

    and as far as directing my anger, since that seems to be important to you(?):
    immediately after the boom, i wouldnt really give a fuck about who set it up, i would be thinking about where it came from, and if i know anybody that lives in that direction, wondering if it was intentional or a just bad accident. that’s what would make me furious, at everyone involved, whether i happen to know their particular involvement/job/title/jurisdiction/condition, or not

  25. #30: Construction directs as much energy into the ground as possible. They’re trying to blow up rocks and earth. That, by DEFINITION, directs as much energy into the ground as possible.

  26. So, quick question: are they still airing new episodes? I haven’t seen any recently, and I’m getting a little nervous…

    Incidentally, this is all spurring me on to completing my own experiments (none of which involve explosives, just in case the NSA, FBI, PD and FD are reading….)

  27. Mythbusters is everything I would want in a TV show on paper but I have yet to watch an episode all the way through because their ‘science’ makes me want to scream at the screen and throw things – especially when they setup ‘experiments’ that regardless of outcome have no bearing on really determining if the alleged myth is or is not possible. From what I have seen, I would hesitate to allow their firearms or explosive experts near me on a range as they have mostly discredited themselves to me by their assosciation / setup of some of these stunts.

  28. Way off topic….. the reason I don’t watch the show is because they flip around too much between “experiments”. I gotta stick around till the end of the show to see how something introduced 5 minutes in turns out. I realize they do that for at least one good reason, but won’t sit thru the stuff I’m not interested in to see the stuff I *am* interested in.

    And people need to relax. A broken window is a hassle but it’s not the end of the world. It’s not like a plane crashed into the house.

  29. #30
    Foundation damage from a *single* blast a mile or more away is usually indicative of a faulty foundation or bad site preparation unless it’s one HELL of a blast – MUCH larger than undirected, open air blast of Fertilizer.

    You can call them all sorts of names, but I’m afraid negligent is not one of them. They brought in a federally certified explosives expert, they got site permitting through the local municipality, and they had local fire and rescue on site during the event. All the experts signed off on the safety factor, and the experts made all of the safety and protocol decisions.

    What more, exactly, would those of you criticizing them asked them to do? Someone will inevitably answer ‘don’t do it’, which borders on hypocrisy from the boing boing crowd.

  30. What is it about growing up and buying property that turns most people into complete, fun-hating douches?

    College kid on experiencing huge explosion that breaks his dorm room window: “Awesome dude!!! Let’s get drunk to celebrate!!!”

    Same guy six years later with a house in the suburbs: “What the?!? Those irresponsible maniacs caused minor damage to my cheap tract home! Even if they repair the damage, I’m going act all pissy and indignant and sue them so I can get some free money!!!”

  31. Don’t mind me…I’m calmly waiting for incompetent Fire Chief Barry Burns to get tossed out on his butt.

  32. If they warn people it will attract a crowd, if they don’t warn people there’s people rushing around scared?

    Somewhere is a happy medium.

  33. Ssssooooo… They had to set off a colossal explosion without warning people because the warning would have caused a disturbance? That sounds like a place where no explosions of any kind should be done, announced or otherwise. It’s not like the Western US isn’t liberally provided with trackless waste by the league, where you can explode things to your heart’s content without consequences if you just go to the trouble to set up out there instead of somewhere populated.

  34. I seriously doubt they anticipated that it might destroy a few windows. Explosives can be hard to predict, and the behaviour of a shockwave is complex.

    I think the calls for “pain and suffering” money on the part of a few commentors here is really quite silly. Nobody was hurt, and the damaged glass is being replaced. Knowing the mythbusters, they would have taken every reasonable precaution to ensure the safety of the blast. They do not do blasting without the assistance of some very experienced professionals. If those experts did not expect it to shatter windows, it’s pretty unlikely that it would have. This is just an unfortunate, unanticipated event.

    The fear that has been exhibited is what has lead to the near banning of the chemistry hobby itself. Safety is a crucial priority, but it is not feasible to element all risk. Risk can be managed, but it can never be eliminated. One must except that.

  35. The FD didn’t notify the people, that’s not the mythbusters’ fault.

    Glass broken, replaced.
    Apologies made.
    This isn’t a tragedy of epic proportions.

    And lastly, saying the Mythbusters is a bad show because you don’t like it makes you sound puerile, and saying it’s bad because science shouldn’t be fun makes me feel sorry for your mundanity.

    Or it would, were I not watching Mythbusters and thoroughly enjoying myself.

  36. About the science employed by mythbusters:

    It *is* science. It may lack in rigour, and it is certainly imperfect. But they attempt to control for possible sources of error, develop reasonable and testable models, and test them. They can be quite good at recognizing when the data produced by an experiment is useless.

    Understand that *failure* is in intrinsic part of the scientific process. You cannot have science without performing experiments that turn out to be poorly conceived and don’t work well. That’s how you find out what does work. The people who claim that mythbusters isn’t science think all science is done in a lab by men wearing white coats. That just isn’t true. It’s not as rigourous as it could be, but I’m inclined to argue that the hypotheses they test don’t deserve the multi-million dollar experiment treatment.

    For example, one experiment was whether pop rocks and coke would make your stomach explode. The simple fact that humans burp without difficult is enough to disprove the argument. However, the mythbusters still tested it, and tested it to extremes to see what it *would* take for a stomach to explode. To invest a great deal of time, money and effort into studying it is unnecessary. A few minutes with a book on anotomy would solve the question.

  37. Watch, there will be some old hag bible thumper, crying about how the children could get hurt. Saying mythbusters is the devil and children everywhere are in danger.

    At least that’s the case with everything else that is fun to do.

  38. well despite my being pigeonholed into the “skittish overreactive ‘get-awf-muh-lawn!’ busybody killjoy” box, and despite this being the age of ubiquitous, irrational fear, there really are things that go boom that do merit concern: gasworks blow up in tx, planes fall on houses in ny… look, i’m one of the people that pointed and laughed when Boston was overcome by fear & indignation during the ATHF Moon People “bombings”, but i genuinely believe that I should have a right to know if there is going to be a loud explosion planned for my community

  39. as far as mythbusters and sbeing scientific:

    they employ the scientific method correctly. the problem is that there have been oversights — not only in procedure (as in this case), but even in hypothesis.. when they tested the legend about cell phones igniting fumes from fuel pumps, they tested it by making the phone ring while someone was drawing gas… it’s bad enough that they “busted” such a silly suggestion, but they didn’t even touch on the most likely (rather, least unlikely) case — that the fumes could be ignited by bad contacts when keys are pressed, or the battery dis/connected

  40. as far as not warning people because they don’t want a crowd — that’s the biggest copout i’ve heard so far this year. for one, they should be embarrased if they aren’t 100% convinced that they can successfully control a peaceful, local crowd

    but if they truly weren’t confident in their crowd-control ability, then the city’s solution is as simple as warning the public of a planned, controlled blast, and then not actually telling anyone where the blast will be. that way the city isn’t out a roll of yellow barricade tape, and there won’t be nearly as much widespread panic & 911 flooding

  41. @47, thanks, good to know

    i must have not seen the whole episode, and even though i like the show that mamory had really been nagging me until now

  42. I’m waiting for the headline:

    “Mythbusters detonate nuclear explosion in San Andreas Fault, California slides into ocean. Lex Luthor myth ‘confirmed’. ”

  43. @52 I suspect, given what I have watched of the show, the headline would actually be “Mythbusters detonate nuclear explosion in Wyoming and consider Lex Luther muth ‘busted’.” At least that is if they follow the same line of experiment design they used for bullets being deflected by hitting water (firing a .50 cal straight down) or bullets fired into the air killing people (firing a gun almost perfectly vertically in the air). And yes, I know that eventually they did more sensible research and work on those myths but the fact they did these initial stunts under the guise of them being worthwhile is just sad and does not speak well of them.

  44. I swear people would cry if someone just walked up and handed them cash for no reason. They would find something wrong with it. ” You know, handing out money like that devalues the cash that I had before someone recklessly handed me more. I mean what if I bought some kid crack with this money? ”


  45. @55: All ready done in London. Can’t remember the group but they were trying to hand out £5 notes. Something like 90% of people refused!

  46. I had no idea that Paul”Phantom of the Paradise” Williams lived in Esparto.
    Jesus, I’m old. ;(

  47. @52:

    The 50 calibre gun was not fired straight down, it was fired at an angle. The issue either way was that supersonic bullets striking the water tend to shatter. Angle of impact does affect this.

    With regards firing the gun vertically, if fired perfectly vertical the bullet must expend all of it’s energy before returning to earth. If at an angle, it can maintain a ballistic trajectory and most of it’s energy. Under *that* circumstance, it is deadly. I highly recommend you rewatch both of those episodes. You have missed a lot of material that they did cover.

  48. #55: Most people do indeed decline free money:
    “Despite encountering over 1800 people, only 28 passers by bothered to take advantage of the offer.” link

  49. @59

    I will look for a chance to go back and review but as I recall, and I could be wrong, they first looked to shoot the .50 basically straight down in a vertical tank (destroying the tank) and then went on to shooting at an angle in the pool. Which is when they got around to to the real work and results which they should have done first – the first firing was a waste of time and shouldn’t have been bothered with as it was bad experimental design on its face.

    As for firing into the air, I suggest you review my comment because you just more or less made my point again in an attempt to criticize me. That they even bothered doing it, as I said, doesn’t speak well of them AND, as I also said, I know they eventually got down to the real work but that doesn’t excuse, in my opinion, the waste of time that was the initial firing straight up.

    I never said they didn’t eventually get it right (in fact, I said they did), I criticized their route for needlessly going down obviously bad paths due to poor design in the initial experiments.

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