In a national park, 4 hours drive north of Sydney in Australia, a fire is smoldering uncontrollably – and it has been for at least 6,000 years.
Known as “Burning Mountain”, the mysterious underground fire is the oldest known fire on the planet. And some scientists estimate that it may be much more ancient than we now think.
The phenomenon occurs on Mount Wingen in the state of New South Wales (Wingen means “fire” in the language of the local Wanaruah people, the traditional guardians of the earth), and this underground fire is the so-called “mine fire”, which is triggered when the coal comes in contact with the oxygen found in the atmosphere.
Once ignited, these underground fires are almost impossible to extinguish. Slowly but surely, they travel through the carbon layer, a layer of carbon that naturally exists beneath the Earth’s surface.
“No one knows the size of the fire under Burning Mountain, they can only infer it,” Guillermo Rein, a professor of fire science at Imperial College London in the United Kingdom, told ScienceAlert.
“It is probably a ball about 5 to 10 meters in diameter, reaching temperatures of 1,000 degrees Celsius,” he explains.
Unlike a typical fire, a mining fire burns underground – it burns slowly, which means there is no flame and it looks more like a barbecue charcoal than a typical coal fire. Also, it should not be confused with the most dramatic gas fires, which are known to set fires even on waterways.
The fire on Mount Wingen is currently burning about 30 meters below the ground and is moving south at a speed of about 1 meter per year. In the national park – which is open to tourists – the only current elements of its existence are a little smoke and white ash, ground that is warm to the touch, discolored rocks in yellow and red and a smell of sulfur that is released as the fire from bottom bakes mountain minerals.
But even though it is mostly invisible now, the path taken by the fire is visible after careful research, with the most recently burned areas covered in ash and devoid of vegetation.
“In front of the fire, where it has not reached, you see this beautiful eucalyptus forest. “Where the fire is now, there is absolutely nothing alive, not even grass,” says Rein. “And where fire was 20 to 30 years ago, the forest is back, but it is a different forest – fire has shaped the landscape.”
Who started the fire?
Interestingly, no one is sure what caused it. The first recorded European observation was made in 1828, when a local farmer said he had discovered a volcano in the Wingen area.
Just a year later, in 1829, geologist Wilton concluded that the supposed volcano was in fact a carbonaceous fire. Measurements have since shown that the fire route covers about 6.5 kilometers – indicating that it has been lit for at least 6,000 years. But other than that, almost no official research has been done in the area.
The area is considered sacred by the traditional custodians, the Wanaruah people, who used it for cooking and making weapons. Their origins tell the story of a widow whose tears lit a fire or the torch of a warrior captured by the “Evil” under the mountain.
According to Rein, natural causes are the most likely source. “We can not rule out anthropogenic intervention, but most likely it is a natural cause,” he explains.
Source: Εναλλακτική Δράση by enallaktikidrasi.com.
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