The black sedan parked in the middle of a country road in Australia’s Gold Coast spins its wheels while an expectant pregnant couple looks on. Lovingly wrapping their arms around each other, they watch as the first tiny puffs of smoke emerge, then build into a billowing blue cloud. The soon-to-be father pumps his fists in the air: They’re having a boy.
The sedan speeds up and starts to spin a celebratory donut as an enthusiastic group of onlookers surrounds the car, filming the brightly-colored scene on their cellphones. Then, out of nowhere, massive flames shoot out from the back tires. Fire begins to engulf the vehicle, turning the gauzy plumes of bright blue smoke into a more ominous black.
The April 2018 incident, which was captured in drone footage later seized by police and released this week, has now entered the hallowed pantheon of gender-reveal parties that have gone horribly wrong.
“This is the first one I’ve seen like this,” a spokeswoman for the Queensland Police Service told The Washington Post. “Usually, people just have a cake.”
Though no one was injured, officials warn that similar stunts — known as “burnout” gender reveals — are dangerous, ill-advised, and not to be tried at home. In the video, the driver can be seen getting back inside the car and starting to drive away once the fire appears to have died down. Just then, a wall of flames erupts, and he quickly bails out.
“I know people like to do unique things for gender reveals these days, but use a bit of common sense,” Queensland Police Service Sgt. Hilton Buckley told 7NEWS Brisbane.
The driver, a 29-year-old man from the town of Nerang, was convicted on one count of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle last year, according to police. He was charged a $1,000 fine and barred from driving for six months. Video of what was supposed to be a heartwarming moment — before the event quite literally went up in flames — was released Tuesday to local media outlets, who filed a request for the footage after the court case concluded last year.
Burnouts — spinning the wheels of a stationary car to produce massive amounts of tire smoke — are a phenomenon believed to have originated in drag racing culture. Aside from the fact that they’re usually illegal on public roads, they can badly damage cars, resulting in destroyed clutches, worn-out brakes and threadbare tires.
Nonetheless, at some point in human history, someone realized that by using specially treated tires or bags of colored powder, they could get their cars to kick up impressive-looking clouds of brightly-colored smoke. Perfect for one of our era’s most controversial — and heavily-photographed — trends: the gender-reveal party.
In the United States, expectant parents have jumped out of planes, painted the sky with crop dusters, and recruited alligators to help reveal their future child’s sex. There have been some disasters, most notably the Arizona Border Patrol agent who inadvertently started a 47,000-acre wildfire while shooting at a target filled with the explosive Tannerite and colored powder, and ended up on the hook for $8 million in restitution.
But in Australia, the Guardian noted in November, burnouts have become “the main high-risk behavior associated with the gender-reveal event.” The country is home to a thriving subculture of burnout enthusiasts who compete to see who can produce the most smoke from their muscle cars, and in 2015, a Queensland car enthusiast revealed that he was expecting a daughter by custom-ordering tires that spewed pink smoke and doing donuts in a parking lot.
As the trend spread, police grew increasingly irate, and in April, they confiscated an expectant father’s car after he filled a suburban cul-de-sac with thick clouds of blue smoke. Officials explained that the father-to-be had been driving dangerously while whipping up so much smoke that the street had zero visibility. Meanwhile, his friend was standing in the middle of the road to document the big reveal, putting his own life at risk.
“He was invisible with the amount of smoke that was generated from the screeching of the tires,” Chief Inspector Stephen Blair of the New South Wales Police Force told 7NEWS.
Yet another gender-reveal burnout went awry when a car that had been kicking up clouds of pink smoke suddenly burst into flames, forcing shrieking party guests to run for shelter. It’s not clear how the December blaze got started, but officials in Southern Australia warned that similar stunts could potentially cause a dangerous bush fire.
There’s some dispute over why flames erupted during the gender-reveal incident captured in the drone footage that was released this week. Speaking to 9 News Queensland, Buckley, of the Queensland Police Service, speculated that the compound used in the tires was responsible. But Autoblog diagnosed the critical mistake as happening when “the overzealous driver continues the burnout down the road and does not let off the gas for more than 20 seconds.” Mitchell Grant of Highway Max, which makes smoke tires in a variety of different colors, similarly told 7NEWS that the driver’s behavior had been “extremely reckless.”
Everyone seemed to agree on one front: There are better ways to find out if you’re having a girl or a boy.
“I can understand the excitement of people wanting to do something special for a gender reveal,” Buckley said. “But doing that sort of thing on a public road, with people standing in front of the car as you’re moving toward them, is a pretty silly thing to do.”
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