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An exhaust leak will cause it every time.

What's happening is that the exhaust leak is allowing oxygen rich outside air into the exhaust path - this fresh oxygen allows the unburnt fuels to ignite inside the pipe, making the backfiring noise you hear.

This is the same concept that a smog pump works on in the automotive world- fresh air is pumped into the exhaust stream, which allows excess hydrocarbons to burn off before they're sent to the catalytic converter and out into the atmosphere.
 
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