Notice anything strange about this photo? At first glance, there’s nothing out of the ordinary.
A man stands outside next to an open fire, leaning over a skillet full of pancakes. You assume he’s camping – cooking breakfast for his family, perhaps.
Look closer, though, and you realize something odd about the fire in front of him: there’s nothing burning.
Or, at least, nothing you can see.
No timber or coal provides the fuel. The flames seem to whip up in a meter-long arc from the earth itself. And that’s because they do…
You’re looking at an eternal flame – one of only a handful that exist naturally around the world.
The phenomenon occurs when natural gas seeps up from the ground and gets ignited, usually by lightning or human activity. They can also occur in the form of peat fires and coal seam fires.
The eternal flame featured in this photo is near the small town of Murchison, in New Zealand. Locals call it the “Gas Blows.”
Legend has it that in the 1920s, a hunter sat down for a cigarette and, upon throwing away the match, inadvertently set alight the natural methane that leaks into the air at this point. It’s been burning ever since.
Eternal Flames Are Aptly-Named
It’s hard to fathom a near-100-year-old flame.
Yet others have burnt for so long they make a century seem trifling.
Take the so-called Fires of Chimera in Turkey, seen above. Called Yanartaş in Turkish, which translates to “Burning Rock,” you can watch 20 to 30 separate flames blaze non-stop on Mount Olympus. Like a fiery game of whack-a-mole, covering one will extinguish it, but another will burst into life nearby.
According to Wikipedia, they’ve been burning for over 2,500 years.
Then there’s “Burning Mountain” in Australia. This coal seam-fueled eternal flame has raged for approximately 6,000 years. Visit the area and you’ll see a landscape covered in rocks turned white from the heat.
Other eternal flames are noteworthy for their aesthetics over their age, though. The best example is arguably Eternal Flame Falls in Chestnut Ridge Park, New York.
This small, flickering flame fuelled by natural gas is tucked away inside a grotto behind a waterfall.
It’s a striking, elemental sight – fire, water, and earth. Come winter, the waterfall freezes, but the fire continues to burn behind it. There can’t be many other places where fire, ice, and earth co-exist.
Apparently, there are only nine naturally occurring eternal flames in existence (although there are surely more we haven’t discovered yet). Have you ever seen one?