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Burning Mountain: The 6,000-Year-Old Eternal Flame Beneath Australia’s Surface

June 18, 2023
2 mins read

Burning Mountain, A.K.A Mount Wingen, is a geological marvel located in New South Wales, Australia. It is considered to be the longest burning fire in the world. Approximately, it has been ablaze for over 6,000 years. We will explore the history, unique features, and environmental impact of Burning Mountain, one of Earth’s most remarkable geological sites. The mountain is situated within the Burning Mountain Nature Reserve, under NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service’s (NPWS) care.

The Burning Mountain fire is believed to have been initially ignited by a coal seam that runs beneath the mountain’s surface. Its origin remains a mystery, but according to local Aboriginal folklore, a tribesman, carried off into the earth by “The Evil One,” used his fire stick to set the mountain ablaze, warning others to stay away. Other potential ignition sources suggested by the NSW Government’s Environment and Heritage Group include lightning strikes, Aboriginal land management practices, campfires, and natural forest fires. However, the widely accepted theory points to the oxidation of iron pyrites in the sulfurous coal material, generating enough heat to ignite the coal. The fire is estimated to be approximately 100 feet (30 meters) deep, burning coal that is 235 years old.

Burning Mountain’s fire has been smoldering through the sandstone for thousands of years. Estimate duration of the fire range from 5,500 years ago to 15,000 years ago. Comparatively, the coal seam fire in Centralia, Pennsylvania, is projected to burn for approximately another 250 years.

Initially, European settlers believed the smoke emanating from the mountain was a result of volcanic activity. However, it was eventually determined that Burning Mountain harbored an underground coal seam fire. The fire has gradually moved southwards roughly at a rate of one meter (three feet) per year. Over the lengthy time, fire has moved a distance of around 6.5 kilometers. Visitors can trace the path of the burning seam fire by observing the reddened soil and the presence of younger trees, as the older ones perished due to the fire’s intense heat.

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Burning Mountain is now protected within the Burning Mountain Nature Reserve, and visitors can witness smoke billowing from the ground near the parking lots. Located approximately 140 miles north of Sydney, the mountain is easily accessible via the New England Highway. It serves as a perfect day excursion for those seeking to explore Australia’s unique attractions or travel along the east coast from Sydney to the Gold Coast or Brisbane.

Within the reserve, visitors can embark on a 4-kilometer (2.5 miles) long walk through the bushland. While the fire itself remains hidden underground, smoke emerging to the surface can be observed, and informational panels provide insights into the phenomenon. The fire has caused visible effects on the soil, which appears discolored and uneven. The reserve also offers scenic views, opportunities for birdwatching, leisurely walks, and picnicking.

The distinct smell of sulfur permeates the area, and what may appear to be ash covering the ground is actually sinter, alum, and sulfur deposits. The absence of plant life near the vent site can be attributed to the adverse chemical composition and elevated temperatures. Efforts are underway to reintroduce vegetation in areas where the ground has cooled, with species such as Narrow-leaved ironbark, Rusty fig, Silky oak, and Blunt-beard heath being considered.

Burning Mountain Nature Reserve is home to diverse wildlife, including 31 recorded bird species. Other animals found in the reserve range from the Common ringtail possum, Koala, Eastern grey kangaroo,The area is home to 31 recorded bird species. Other notable wildlife in the reserve includes the Common ringtail possum, Koala, Eastern grey kangaroo, Wallaroo, Swamp wallaby, Short-beaked echidna, bats, Eastern brown snake, Bearded dragon, and Copper-tailed skink. Burning Mountain is a remarkable natural phenomenon with unique environment and geological features. These unique features have contributed to preserving and containing the fire. The fire has had significant environmental impacts, including air pollution and displacement of local wildlife. Ongoing efforts by authorities aim to protect the site and ensure the stability of Burning Mountain, with no signs of it being extinguished in the foreseeable future.

Rahul Somvanshi

Rahul, possessing a profound background in the creative industry, illuminates the unspoken, often confronting revelations and unpleasant subjects, navigating their complexities with a discerning eye. He perpetually questions, explores, and unveils the multifaceted impacts of change and transformation in our global landscape. As an experienced filmmaker and writer, he intricately delves into the realms of sustainability, design, flora and fauna, health, science and technology, mobility, and space, ceaselessly investigating the practical applications and transformative potentials of burgeoning developments.

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