Creating Fake Fire, Arc Welding and Smoke Effects

Real campfire

Creating fake fire effects for your model railroad is definitely one of the more fun things you can do to enhance your train layout and capture the attention of your visitors. Be prepared to hear things like “Wow!”, “Cool!”, “Awesome!” and “How did you do that!?” when you use the following electronic fire and smoke effects on your railroad…

Arc Welding Effect

Simulations of arc welding can make a machine shop or roundhouse really come alive. There are several types of circuit boards commercially available to help create this effect:

• Circuitron AW-1 (with small lamps) or AW-2 (with larger lamps) utilizes blue and yellow randomly flashing lights. A small “whiff” of cotton can be used to suggest smoke coming up from the welding area. Requires 10-18volts AC or DC. (

• GRS Micro Liting uses blue and rose-colored lights and contains controls to change frequency and intensity of light. Requires12-20volts AC or DC. (

• Ram Track circuitry contains a randomly flashing white LED for a realistic welding effect. (

• Miniatronics uses 2 LEDs for a scattered effect. Requires 2-12volts DC. (

Adding a scale-size welding worker to the scene will add to the realism if you can see inside the building where the “welding” is going on.

Roadside Flare

The Fusee Animator circuit board made by Logic Rail Technologies ( is a device that can create the effect of a roadside flare for an accident scene or broken-down truck. So-called “fusees” are used by train crews, placed in the middle of the tracks to alert train engineers of stopped equipment ahead.


Flickering lights simulating small fires can be used for hobo camps, barbecue picnics, or for barrel fires at a construction sites, etc. Miniatronics and GRS Micro Liting both make circuits specially designed for this realistic-appearing fake fire effect. The Circuitron Arc Welder can also be used if you change the bulbs to orange and yellow. Once again, if you add a small stretched-out thin piece of cotton, you will get a smoke effect. Circuitron also makes a Flickering Flame Circuit that can be used for this effect. You can use wrinkled cellophane around the lights to simulate sparks.

Structure on fire

Circuiton’s Firelites Flickering Flame Circuits can also be used for larger fake fire effects depending on which of 3 units you use. The FF-1 is for small fires and uses only one amber bulb. FF-2 uses amber and red bulbs, and the FF-3 unit can use up to 20 bulbs, which would be appropriate for a large structure fire, or even a forest fire.

Similarly, GRS Micro Liting makes the Micro Flamemaker for smaller fake fires (requires 6-12v AC or DC), Super Flamemaker for larger flames as in structure fires (16-20v AC only), and the Ultimate Flame Master, which can do anything from burning embers to large fires (12-20v AC or DC) using up to 6 – 3volt bulbs. You can connect an AM radio to the unit to create variable active flickering effects. All instructions are included.

Smoke effects can be created using a stationary smoke generator such as one of the units manufactured by Vollmer. This is an excellent addition and maybe even a necessity to help you create a respectable fire scene.

The whole effect of a building on fire can be simulated by first modifying a structure kit. Start by making an irregular hole in the roof with charred visible structure boards that haven’t quite collapsed yet. The area around the hole and around some of the windows near where the fire will be simulated (especially above the windows) should be airbrushed with a flat grimy black paint-wash to simulate soot. Paint the entire interior of the structure solid black so the fire can’t be seen through the walls of the structure, which would be unrealistic. Fasten the circuit board or boards (you can combine them for extra effects) on the base of the structure with doubled-sided sticky foam tape. Place some of the larger bulbs high in the structure, or wherever most of the fire will be, using plastic tubes glued to the base with the bulbs sitting on tops of the tubes. The light bulbs should not be visible through the windows. Windows that are “dirty” tend to work better to diffuse the light. Use crumpled cellophane around the lights to create even more of a flickering or flame effect.

Fasten the smoke unit on top of a brass tube (use a metal-to-metal glue like JB Weld) so that it is fairly close to the opening in the roof.

Connect everything to your power source. Make sure you use the right power source that will be compatible with the specific circuit board(s) and smoke unit that you are using. Use black vinyl electrical tape to tape all the wires down and out of the range of visibility from the windows.

The smoke unit and all the fake fire lights for the structure should be controlled with one switch. This will prevent you from forgetting to turn off the smoke unit. (If you let the smoke unit stay on for too long and all the smoke fluid dries up, the unit can become permanently damaged.)

Add a sound module with crackling fire sounds and/or sirens. To complete the scene, place a couple of fire trucks and emergency vehicles at the scene along with a crowd of bystanders gathering to watch the action.

Now you can throw the switch, sit back, and watch your building “burn”!

House on fire

Reference: Newitt, Paul, Creative Effects for Your Model Railroad
A Beginner's Guide to Creative Effects for your Model Railroad

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