MacGyver Maker Challenge: Wildfire Escape

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Think you could MacGyver your way out of a dangerous situation?  Welcome to Make:’s new MacGyver Challenge — solve this emergency scenario in a creative way and your solution could be featured in the next issue of Make: magazine!

Written by MacGyver TV creator Lee David Zlotoff and his partner in predicaments, Rhett Allain, here’s the new challenge: Wildfire Escape!  Share your best solutions below for a chance to be in the magazine and win some Make: goodies too.

Lee Z wrote the popular MakeShift challenge in Make: magazine from 2005 to 2011. Now we’re bringing Mac back to help you think — and make — your way out of natural disasters, power failures, and other emergencies. There seem to be a lot of them these days. As Lee writes in Make: Volume 82, “We are all MacGyvers now.”

Make: subscribers and members — you can meet Lee Zlotoff and other guests from our special Emergency prep and survival issue, at the Make: Volume 82 Launch Party this Thursday September 15.

Be sure to join Make: Community or subscribe to the magazine.


By Lee D. Zlotoff and Rhett Allain

The Scenario

You’re just returning home from an extended business trip by cab to discover your neighborhood is now in the path of a wildfire and everyone has been ordered to evacuate — and they are fleeing in droves because emergency services have made it clear they will not be coming back for anyone. You race into the house to gather up whatever crucial documents and valuables you can, packing your small late-model, automatic economy car with as much as it can hold. But as you jump in to start it, you discover … the battery is dead!

The Challenge

By now, there’s no one around to help you jump-start it. And just as you begin to realize how serious this might be, all the power in the area goes out! So, how are you going to get your car started and escape before the fire gets to you?

What You’ve Got
And it’s all you’ve got:

·       One smartphone
·       A two-stroke weed trimmer with pull start and some fuel
·       Chemicals — paint thinner, acetone, paint (latex based), wasp spray
·       Copper pipe, zinc nails, steel screws, a bunch of nuts and bolts
·       Basic tools — screwdriver, wrenches, corded plug-in electric drill, saw, pliers, clamps, hammer
·       Ratchet straps, tarps, and a tow rope
·       Floor jack
·       A mountain bike
·       A gas lawnmower (push type, no drive)
·       2 battery flashlights with D cells (6 total)
·       An old Walkman with 2 AA batteries
·       A TV remote with 2 AAA batteries
·       Scuba tank with 1000psi of air
·       2 extension cords
·       A beach umbrella

 Share your best solutions below for a chance to be in the magazine and win some shwag too!  

[feature image Adobe Stock-PrettyVectors and nendrawahyu]

14 thoughts on “MacGyver Maker Challenge: Wildfire Escape

  1. Bob West says:

    1) Strip the extension cords and wire the 6 D Cells in series (9V) with the 2 AA batteries each respectively parallel wired the 2AAA (3V) to make a battery pack producing 12V total. You plan touse this to power up the electronic ignition in the late model car at the proper time.
    2) Remove the “business end” of the weed trimmer and using the bunch of nuts and bolts attach the drive of the weed trimmer spool to the air conditioning compressor pulley so that the weed trimmer can drive the pulley and thus turn over the engine.
    3) Now you try turning over the engine with the gas powered weed trimmer by pull starting and firing it up with gasoline in its tank, but you realize the the weed trimmer will not have the horsepower to turn the engine. Failure!….you need a boost in power. You consider repeating the process using the lawnmower engine but there is no time!
    4) After you expel a long deep breath, inspiration strikes! You then scramble to remove the spark plug from the weed trimmer. You are going to make an Air Motor!
    5) Using the copper pipe and a sealing compound made from from the acetone mixed with the tarp (acetone/styrene goop) you fashion a conduit from the scuba tank with 1000psi of air to the spark plug hole of the weed trimmer which is attached to the A/C Pully as before.
    6) You realize you probably only have one chance at this, so you turn on the ignition, apply the battery pack to turn on the electronics and you open the scuba valve. The car engine turns over and sputters to life just as the sealing compound blows on the copper pipes with a large pop. Whatever you do, don’t shut off that car. You cant take off the weed trimmer so you close the hood over the contraption and ratchet strap it down.
    7) By this time you feel as if the flames are close, as embers are falling all around and you are worried the car will catch fire from falling embers, so you ratchet strap the beach umbrella to the top of the car and pour the latex paint all over the umbrella. You figure the wet latex paint over the beach umbrella will provide some Intumescent quality.
    8) You get in your painted landscaping beach mobile and you get the heck out of there.

  2. stefan says:

    I’d just take the mountain bike and go.

  3. DJDevon3 says:

    ‪This one is more complex than it seems with a dead battery and no time to recharge it. You can use the pipe, compressed air, and acetone as a fuel source through the intake manifold. You can get the engine turned over with the lawn mower and ratchet straps but to keep it running you need spark. The biggest problem is actually the spark timing in my opinion. ‬it’s a fools errand without a battery and no ECU. I might be able to get it hobbling down the road in a distributor system using the weed wackers spark to the ignition coil but no idea if that would fire as needed.

  4. DJDevon3 says:

    Well yeah with a fashioned 12V battery you’d want to remove the recharging circuit or you’ll blow up your batteries. They won’t have enough amps to turn over the starter motor by itself and if you even try it you’ll drain all your battery power instantly. With 12V to run the ECU and spark timing only you might have a chance.

  5. Alan says:

    Not sure about the time available, but I would try to rig the weed trimmer to the alternator. The battery would get enough charge in 15 minutes to get a single chance to start.

  6. Austin says:

    Using the available hand tools to remove the belt from the alternator. Reattach the belt to the weed eater head and alternator only. Using the weed eater to operate the alternator to charge the battery.

    Using the straps and tarps wrap up the trunk and rear of the car to reduce smoke entry. Make sure to avoid wrapping the exhaust, maintain front window and windshield visibility. Pack the vents as well.

    Then use the scuba tank to provide clean breathing air and a mild positive pressure in the cabin to reduce smoke entry and inhalation.

  7. Richard says:

    You just got back from a business trip so you obviously have some suitcases. Id strap the suitcases to the mountain bike and wear one as a backpack and put everything valuable into them and make my escape.

    Wildfires can be very unpredictable and if everyone is already running away by the time you arrive I’d say your on borrowed time.

    Living in Australia when Wildfire was common they told us drop everything and run your life is more important than money or objects.

    Any solution you could come up with or MacGyver together would take time and even being miles away the fire would keep the surrounding area very hott. You might get your car running only to run into fire coming from another direction and your sitting in a microwave with fuel in it

    Get on your bicycle and run thanking your lucky stars you got home in time to escape

  8. DJDevon3 says:

    One thing I don’t like about the way the challenge is formulate is it doesn’t specify how much time you have which could make a huge difference in how this problem is approached.

    A dead battery is an arbitrary voltage as anything below 9V will fail to turn the starter motor or solenoids… yet might be enough to allow for a small charge to 10v using the batteries on hand. Of course, you wouldn’t know that info if you were in that situation anyway. The difference between 9V and 10V is huge, you’ll get 1 shot at turning over the motor at 10V. I know because I’ve done it.

    Suggestions of removing the alternator might be ridiculous as it might take up to 30 minutes to get the accessory belt off but again we don’t know how much time is allotted. Like if you’re going to be a crispy critter in 15 minutes you wouldn’t even bother trying to remove the belt in 15 minutes unless you were intimately familiar with how to do it on that car with a lot of practice. If you do have time then yeah hook the alt up to the weed wacker and recharge the battery. Make sure to ground the alt to the engine block and don’t touch anything. Getting the alternator to recharge the battery is really the key to the whole puzzle.

  9. Pooh Bear Trapzilla Ultra Gorilla says:

    Is there a raspberry pi in the backseat? Can programs it to call SOS for help.

  10. Michael Beaveridge says:

    Clamp business end of weed trimmer with drill chuck. Make conductive path from drill cord to battery of car. Start weed trimmer and run until there is enough charge to start car. Call mom and let her know you are going to be late coming home.

  11. John c willey says:

    Well ask cab to jump start your car and leave

  12. Paul says:

    Take note of the serpentine belt routing. Take the belt off by turning the tensioner with the appropriate wrench. Clip the trimmer string off flush with the spool. Fire up the gas trimmer and let it run on the ground. Put one side of the belt over the alternator pulley and the other side over the trimmer spool. Use the bike handlebars as a fulcrum to put some tension on the serpentine belt. Give the trimmer full throttle for about 30 seconds. Put the belt back on, start the car, and gtfo!

  13. Andy says:

    Brace yourself because we’re about to pull an all-nighter… Actually, I guess you could take the scuba tanks for oxygen, the tarp to cover yourself if debris falls around, the flashlights & batteries, smartphone if it works, hammer to break glass if you need to break into some area. You might as well break off one of the car’s mirrors to use as a reflective signal, Use the mountain bike and see what you can fit on yourself by fashioning the tarp into some sort of backpack. Tear out some upholstery or grab the air filter from the car to breathe through if it works.

    More than likely though I’d want to take no more than 15-30lbs of junk with me and just get out of there. If anything doesn’t help I would just drop it along the way.

    It didn’t mention the distance, size, or speed of the wildfire but I just googled and the avg. speed is maybe 1.6mph if the windspeed is around 16mph so you can crawl away if that’s how fast we’re talking.

    The lighter version is grab whatever it takes to breathe and just walk out.

  14. Andy says:

    l would be remiss if l did not advise you to wait until daylight.

    Do not take this journey lightly.

    There is an old game path through the forest, just beyond the abandoned Starbucks.

    Take it to where it forks.
    Jog to the right.
    Do not go to the left.

    You will see lights.
    You don’t want to go there.

    Keep walking.

    Look up and locate the belt of Orion the Hunter. The stars shall be your guide.

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