The guys at work in the area realized there was methane — natural gas — in the new crater. That flammable gas was a hazard for the workers and nearby villagers as well. Putting their heads together, the people on the scene decided to ignite the natural gas in the crater. They thought it would be a good way to eliminate the hazard, trusting that the fire would burn out in a short time.
But the fire in the crater has burned continually since that day in 1971. Enough gas vapor flows naturally into the crater that the flame burns endlessly onward. The crater — with its flames and boiling mud — is called the Door to Hell by those who live nearby. The crater appears to be growing over time, and it has become something of a tourist attraction.
Beyond making for intriguing photos, coal and natural gas burning out of control does us no good. As I’ve argued before, we can and should do more to put out unwanted fires of earth materials. In so doing we would help local, often impoverished, residents affected by fires — and even help the whole world in terms of cutting our greenhouse gas emissions.
Dr. E. Kirsten Peters is the author of “Planet Rock Doc.” This column is a service of the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. Peters can be reached at rockdoc.wsu.edu and on Twitter @RockDocWSU.