A flamethrower is a mechanical incendiary device designed to project a controllable stream of fire. First deployed by the Greeks in the 1st century AD, flamethrowers saw use in modern times during World War I, and more widely in World War II.
Most military flamethrowers use liquid fuel, typically either gasoline or diesel, but commercial flamethrowers are generally gas torches using fuels such as propane; gases are safer in peacetime applications, because their flames dissipate faster and often are easier to extinguish when necessary.
The military use of flamethrowers are restricted through the Protocol on Incendiary Weapons.
Apart from the military applications, flamethrowers have peacetime applications where there is a need for controlled burning, such as in sugarcane harvesting and other land-management tasks. Various forms are designed for an operator to carry, while others are mounted on vehicles.
In the United States, private ownership of a flamethrower is not restricted by federal law. Flamethrowers are legal in 48 states and restricted in California and Maryland.
In California, unlicensed possession of a flame-throwing device—statutorily defined as “any non-stationary and transportable device designed or intended to emit or propel a burning stream of combustible or flammable liquid a distance of at least 10 feet” H&W 12750 (a)—is a misdemeanor punishable with a county jail term not exceeding one year OR with a fine not exceeding $10,000 (CA H&W 12761). Licenses to use flamethrowers are issued by the State Fire Marshal, and they may use any criteria for issuing or not issuing that license which is deemed fit, but must publish those criteria in the California Code of Regulations, Title 11, Section 970 et seq.
In the United Kingdom, flamethrowers are a “prohibited weapon” under section 5(1)(b) of the Firearms Act 1968 and article 45(1)(f) of the Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order 2004 and possession of a flamethrower would carry a sentence of up to ten years’ imprisonment. In 1994, a man attacked school pupils at Sullivan Upper School, just outside Belfast, with a home-made flamethrower.
A South African inventor brought the Blaster car mounted flamethrower to market in 1998 as a security device to defend against carjackers. It has since been discontinued, with the inventor moving on to pocket-sized self-defence flamethrowers.
Billionaire Elon Musk, most famously known for being the CEO of Tesla, Inc. and owner of SpaceX, developed a flamethrower for public sale through his business, The Boring Company, selling 20,000 units.