When fire chief Donald Tucker arrived at the scene early Monday morning, it was exactly as a 911 caller had reported.
“When I got there, there were flames 8 or 9 feet high shooting out of a hole about 2 feet in diameter,” said Tucker, chief of the Midway, Arkansas, Volunteer Fire Protection District. “It burned that way for 30 to 45 minutes before it went out.”
A closer look revealed a scorched rim and a hole about 3-1/2 feet deep that Tucker said made a sharp 45-degree turn at the bottom.
“I took a temperature reading of it and it showed 780 degrees inside the hole,” Tucker recalled. “But what caused it? I have no idea. There’s no gas lines nearby and there was no smell of natural gas.”
The fire crew responded to the report of flames shooting out of the ground around 4:15 a.m. Monday. Tucker said he didn’t think the odd occurrence was caused by a meteor.
“There’s no sign of a strike, no splashed dirt around the edge,” he said. “It’s on private property, right off the edge of town.”
Social media conjecture has taken off, with some believing it was flaming space junk that landed at the site. Others believe it had to be a meteorite.
Midway is an unincorporated area northwest of Mountain Home, Arkansas. Tucker said an employee from Fayetteville-based Black Hills Energy gas company arrived and took photos of the scene.
A spokesman for the company confirmed a technician was sent to check it out.
“Although Black Hills Energy does not provide natural gas service in Midway, Arkansas, the local fire department contacted us to assist with their fire investigation,” said Black Hills spokeswoman Amiee York. “Our technicians responded and detected no natural gas in the area. We will continue to partner with the fire department in their investigation as needed.”
Tucker alerted Jim Sierzchula, director of Baxter County, Arkansas Office of Emergency Management. Sierzchula said he arrived at the scene after the fire had gone out, but the cause remains a mystery.
“At this time we don’t have a clue what it is,” he said. “We do know it’s not natural gas. We’ve been trying to find out whose property it is.”
One clue, perhaps:
“To me, it looks like an existing hole that was there, but what was burning?” he asked. “When I got there it smelled like burned plastic to me.”
He said there used to be a gas station near the site of the flaming hole, but so far there’s no link to it or to an ignition source. He also has been trying to reach the local phone company, which has lines in the area.
Sierzchula said there were flashes of lightning from storms north of the flaming hole Sunday evening, but no reports of the fire coming out of the ground until early Monday morning.
He acknowledged he is concerned.
“We’re just trying to figure it out,” Sierzchula said.