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Bonfires burning bright,
Pumpkin faces in the night.

—The Misfits, "Halloween"

Trashcan Bonfire: a bonfire in a trashcan or oil drum. Often homeless people will be huddled around it for warmth.

Will sometimes be added to a Smoke and Fire Factory. A character might burn something within it or someone might knock into it and become a Man On Fire. Or it might just stay in the background.

Examples of Trashcan Bonfire include:

Anime and Manga


  • The Hell Hotel in The Lost Boys is absolutely full of these.
  • Batman Begins had this trope: it's how Bruce Wayne disposed of his ID before heading off to the wilds of Asia.
  • Blade Runner. There's one visible while Roy and Leon are walking in the street and the bicyclists are riding by. There are two visible in the street where Deckard gets an identification of the snake scale, and three of them can be seen during Deckard's pursuit of Zhora.
  • The Terminator series, in the post-apocalyptic future.
  • The Knife Nut villain from The Crow was killed while hanging out around one.
  • Graverobber, occasional narrator of Repo! The Genetic Opera is seen disgustedly throwing a tabloid newspaper into a trashcan bonfire at the very end of the film.
  • Seen in Rocky.
  • The Running Man, during the outdoor scenes with crowds betting on the game.
  • Buckaroo Banzai. In the Yoyodyne building, some are visible in the Red Lectroid bivouac as well as one in the Pitt.
  • Flatliners. After being deserted by Nelson at the cemetery, Steckle and Hurley are seen warming their hands over a burning barrel before being picked up by Labraccio.
  • Patton. Two appear in the Nazi headquarters at the end of the war, where they're being used to burn documents so the Allies won't get them.
  • RoboCop 2. There some on the streets of Detroit as Robocop approaches Cain's first drug factory.
  • Wild Wild West. Several are burning at the encampment of the former Confederate soldiers before the arrival of Dr. Loveless' vehicle.
  • Running Scared. During the scene on the basketball court there's one in the background.

Live Action TV

  • In the Buffy musical, during the "Walk Through the Fire" song, Buffy holds her hand up to a trashcan bonfire when singing "I touch the fire and it freezes me."
    • The second episode of Angel has a Trashcan Bonfire. The Monster of the Week tries to stick Angel's head in it, but ends up getting set on fire himself.
  • America's Got Talent: The 2008 contestant Flambeaux used one of these as part of his Top 40 performance. He later stated that it was a callback to the days he spent wandering the streets of New York.
  • Not homeless, but characters on M*A*S*H would be seen huddling around trashcan bonfires in mid-winter.
  • Dark Angel featured this in parts of the city.
  • The Babylon 5 episode "Chrysalis" has a scene with, in the background, a group of homeless people huddled around a futuristic equivalent, what looks like a large orange light bulb in a frame the shape and size of an oil drum.
  • Inexplicably built in Community episode Modern Warfare, even though the game has only been going for a few hours at this point.
  • Hunter. A drug dealer is killed by a Career Killer, and at the end of the episode Hunter finds the man's fellow dealers commemorating his memory around a burning trashcan. They explain that this was the corner where the deceased made his first drug buy.


  • In City of Heroes, villain mobs—particularly The Lost—can be found clustering around burning trashcans.


  • The video for "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing ta F' Wit" and probably many others.

Newspaper Comics

Tabletop RPG

  • Call of Cthulhu (tabletop game) supplement Fearful Passages, adventure "The Iron Ghost". There's one in the 1934 Southern Pacific car.
  • Neverwhere RPG. Half-Lifers in The Arches burn cardboard in oil drums for heat.


  • The Nostradamus-quoting homeless woman who Hannah Pitt meets while lost in the South Bronx in Angels in America is by one of these.

Video Games

  • Gaia Online has this as an item.
  • In Deus Ex, J.C. Denton approaches a group of homeless refugees clustered around an Trashcan Bonfire.
    • Continued in Invisible War where trashcan bonfires are common sights in the more slummy parts of levels.
  • In the online game Kingdom of Loathing, the Hobopolis dungeon is strewn with Trashcan Bonfires.
  • Max Payne has several of these. Of course, you get the option to shoot the hobos
  • Blazing oil drums make several appearances in the Donkey Kong series, starting from the original arcade game.
  • Left 4 Dead has one, and it hurts if you jump into it (not to mention the enemies if they're stupid-enough to jump on top of it).
    • Interestingly enough, when you look at the ground around it, you can see a few dollar bills, some of them partially burnt. I guess they got desperate.
    • Team Fortress 2 recently received burning oil drums as part of the swamp pack, though they have only been used in community made maps, so far.
  • Fallout 3 has Trashcan Bonfires all over the place to indicate 'hey, this direction is important'. Earlier titles in the series just use them as decoration in town areas whose light may or may not be helpful in combat at night.
  • Seen as early as Doom 2. The flaming barrels were the only ones that didn't explode.
  • In The Godfather: The Game, these act as Exploding Barrels. Somehow.
  • Can be seen in Mafia, in the mission where you have to pick up the racing car.
  • Duke Nukem 3D has these. You can shoot them and start a fire on the ground.
  • You see these here and there in the first two stages of MadWorld; the game refers to them as "man heaters". Because you can kill a guy by shoving them in there. If you do, announcer Kreese Kreely commends Jack for adding fuel to the fire so it can keep more hobos warm for the day.
  • Saints Row 2 will have homeless people huddled around these in the city's poor neighborhoods.
  • Possible in Dwarf Fortress, if a fire-safe bin containing items made of certain flammable materials (specifically, ones that do not take heat damage) is exposed to sufficiently high temperatures, the items inside will burn for the better part of a year and cannot be extinguished, even if dumped into water. Such "dwarven fire" has been successfully used to boil away the entire ocea] (and drastically reduce the frame rate), though it's also been proposed as a method for killing invaders (and likely ignite nearby objects or passing Dwarves).
  • These are good places to recruit fighters for your team in Freedom Fighters, especially as the game progress towards winter (New York can be pretty cold.)
  • Seen in many levels in Kingpin Life of Crime.

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • G.I. Joe episode "Cold Slither". When Cobra Commander goes to a bad part of town to meet a loan shark, several homeless men can be seen warming their hands over one.

Real Life

  • Somewhat Truth in Television, although maybe not to the same prevalence among the homeless. A lot of rural homes in the US still have an oil drum out back to burn trash, scraps and yard debris in. Add a wire mesh cover to cut down sparks and it's relatively safe and self-contained.
  • There is a type of space heater, used by the US Military and presumably other forces, which is essentially an oil drum attached to a jerrycan of diesel fuel and an exhaust pipe, along with some other design features to make it work better as a heater. Burning garbage in it is discouraged, as you'd have to clean the burnt remains out afterwards anyways. Burning gasoline in it is discouraged, because it burns far too easily in the heater to be done safely.
  • Seen a lot in depictions of strikes, with the picketers standing around one and singing inspirational and/or revolutionary songs.
  • In some countries, such bonfires are set up at small Christmas fairs so visitors can keep themselves warm.