fire

Posted by Ellen

Great-Grandma Helen settles down with a cup of tea in Ted's little house in the woods on the mountain above Great Cacapon, West Virginia.

Earlier on that October day, she and Ted had split the stovewood to light up the night with a bright, crackly glow. The work warmed everybody twice, just as they say, but looking back from our current outpost on the frontier of the new year, we can actually feel that warmth a third time now, in our recollection of quiet fireside sorts of moments in which we rested, enjoyed good company, and eased the furrows of our brows.

Okay, so right now, it looks like we're all deep and soggy in an octopus's garden in the shade? Well, that would be a huge problem if we didn't have each other, so . . . .  Hugs.

Posted by Ellen

Lap cat shows plenty of lap. Philly Photo Day 2014.

Posted by Ellen

Blacksmith Michael Hart of Horsmonden, Kent, U.K., beats an old chainsaw chain into a new knife.

Hart tries to keep the fire in his forge at about 1200 degrees Fahrenheit. Each time he pulls his work out of the fire, it glows white-hot and his first hammer blow releases a shower of sparks. Succeeding blows do less glitzy work. 

Posted by Ellen

Saucing up the satay, at LauPaSat market in Singapore.

Posted by Ellen

On a cold night in January, more than two hundred firefighters from all over Chicago battled a huge blaze in the Harris Marcus warehouse in the city's Bridgeport district. The job was complicated by extreme cold, as hydrants froze and ladders iced up; the water department was called in to de-ice the ladders with steamers.

The next day, embers in the smouldering ruin reignited, and firetrucks had to go back there and spray even more water.

Posted by Ellen

 

 

 

(Image removed at the request of Ramon)

 

 

 

My guess is that some kind of apple preserves is happening here. The photo was shot on 14 October in the Turkish village of Mustafapasa.

Posted by Ellen

Above, you see what's left these days of Centralia, Pennsylvania, once a busy little coal-mining community, now literally a smoking ruin. Seams of coal in the ground underneath Centralia have been burning for almost fifty years now, despite millions of dollars spent on fire-fighting efforts. The townspeople have all been relocated and their homes and businesses demolished, but still the fire burns, heating the ground from below, venting smoke through cracks in the earth. Researchers estimate it will burn itself out in another couple of hundred years.

Centralia had its fifteen minutes of fame about thirty years ago, when residents finally gave up on fighting the fire and voted to abandon their homes. What was not widely discussed at the time, however, was that although coal fires can occur as natural phenomena, this one was no act of God; it was intentionally set by Centralia's own fire department as part of a routine practice of burning off garbage in the town dump. In 1962, however, the town acquired a new landfill: a long-abandoned anthracite strip mine. When the fire department lit its regular garbage fire in the new dump, an exposed coal seam caught fire.

For twenty years, townspeople fought the fire and tried to live with it. But in 1981, the owner of an Amoco gas station was checking the level of fuel in his underground storage tank when he noticed that the dipstick seemed hot. A thermometer lowered into the tank revealed that the temperature of the gasoline was 180 degrees.

There were numerous complaints of people experiencing symptoms associated with carbon-monoxide poisoning, and the city bought carbon-monoxide detectors for every home. But Centralians still didn't give up on their town until the day that a sinkhole suddenly cracked open beneath the feet of a twelve-year-old boy. He slipped part of the way down into the hole, which was about four feet wide and more than a hundred feet deep, hot and smoking and belching poisonous fumes. The boy's cousin grabbed his arms and was able to rescue him before he fell all the way in, and shortly thereafter, the U.S. Congress came up with $42 million to relocate all 1,000 men, women, and children of Centralia.

Underground coal fires are actually fairly common, especially in China and Indonesia, where it is believed that as much as 10 per cent of all the known coal reserves may have caught fire while still in the mines. About 200 coal fires have been identified in the United States, mostly in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. In the U.S., most coal fires are far from populated areas and are started by sparks from wildfires or lightning strikes in coalbeds. There is geological evidence of coal fires burning many millions of years ago, and it has been calculated that over time, coal-fire emissions of carbon dioxide and other toxic gases may have significantly impacted global warming.

Coal fires are notoriously difficult and expensive to fight, and efforts to put them out often wind up making them worse, feeding the flames with fresh air. In 1982, experts consulted by Centralia proposed an elaborate trenching operation that would cost $440 million and might or might not work. Voters rejected the scheme, and presumably they have now gotten on with their lives, wherever they have gone. A reunion is set for 2015; on the agenda is the opening of a time capsule sealed in 1965, during construction of what was then the new town bank.

In the photos below:

(1) A block in downtown Centralia, from a 1986 photo. All the buildings were razed except for the Speed Shop bike store near the righthand edge of the picture, which caught fire.

(2) Smoke from cracks in the ground, as seen last week. In many parts of town, we could feel the heat through our shoes.

(3) New wind turbines on the ridge north of Centralia. Energy produced by these few windmills must be trivial compared to the energy once dug out of the earth here, which in turn may be trivial compared to the energy wasted by the mine fire. But a new page is turning in the history of this coal country.