MIDWAY, Ark. (AP) — A fire that caused a mysterious burning hole in Arkansas in September was intentionally set, authorities say, and not the result of a meteorite, methane — or work of the devil.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Sunday that Baxter County authorities used soil samples to identify various flammable chemicals typically found in paint thinners where a 12-foot-tall (3.6 meter) fire spurted from a hole in the ground and burned for around 40 minutes. Authorities say it may have been a prank.
Initial speculation ranged from serious, such as a possible leaking natural gas line, to far-fetched. Officials in Midway, about 120 miles (200 kilometers) north of Little Rock, easily dismissed suggestions that the fire was caused by Satan or a meteorite. No faulty utility or fuel lines were found in the area.
The Arkansas National Guard analyzed three soil samples and found two solvents: toluene and xylene. Wesley Stites, chemistry and biochemistry department chair at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, said both solvents can be found in household items, including paint thinners.
"That seems like the most plausible thing to me, that somebody dumped a quart of paint thinner down there and caught it on fire," Stites said.
Baxter County Emergency Management Director Jim Sierzchula said there were no photos or images of the fire, which caused no property damage, and said the sheriff's office will not investigate it as a crime.
But Sierzchula said he's glad to be rid of the flaming hole speculation.
"I've had people call me at 2 or 3 in the morning telling me what it was," he said. "I don't need to play with it anymore."
Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com