Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Burning Sands

Here in Maine, those of us who live near the beaches know what it's like to hotfoot it across the summer sands. There is an interesting piece of Maine history that mentions hotter sands than any of us have had the chance to tread.

In 1905, the beach and the waters surrounding Kittery Point burst into flames spontaneously. Guests at the nearby Hotel Parkfield were understandably alarmed. To quote Professor Penhallow, a botany professor who visited the scene and investigated the conflagration, "The flames were about one foot in height. They were accompanied by a loud and continuous crackling noise which could be distinctly heard one hundred yards away, while at the same time there was a very strong liberation of sulphurous acid fumes which penetrated the hotel."

The events reoccurred a month later to a lesser extent. Penhallow surmised that a local earthquake that took place two days before the first eruption of flames might have dislodged organically formed gases from the beach strata where they had been trapped previously.

Can you imagine the consternation of these Victorian-era vacationers, enjoying their late summer porch sitting, when faced with this diabolical scenario?! What I wouldn't give to get a glimpse of what it looked like...

I discovered the trail of this happening on a webpage about will-o-the-wisps at, and followed it up with the more detailed account on the Maine Geological Survey pages. Neat!

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