This Mysterious Fire in Australia Has Been Burning For at Least 6,000 Years (2023)

In a national park a four-hour drive north of Sydney in Australia, a fire is smoldering out of control – and it's been doing so for at least 6,000 years.

Known as 'Burning Mountain', the mysterious underground blaze is the oldest known fire on the planet. And some scientists estimate it may be far more ancient than we currently think.

Located under Mount Wingen in the state of New South Wales (Wingen means 'fire' in the language of the local Wanaruah people, the traditional custodians of the land), this underground smolder is a coal seam fire – one of thousands burning at any one time around the globe.

Once ignited, these subterranean fires are almost impossible to put out. Slowly but intensely, they travel through the coal seam, a layer of coal that naturally occurs beneath Earth's surface.

"No one knows the size of the fire under Burning Mountain, you can only infer it," Guillermo Rein, a professor of fire science at Imperial College London in the UK, tells ScienceAlert.

"It's likely a ball of around 5 to 10 meters in diameter, reaching temperatures of 1,000 degrees Celsius [1,832 Fahrenheit]," he explains.

(Video) This Mysterious Fire in Australia Has Been Burning For at Least 6,000 Years #shorts #bushfires

Rein visited Burning Mountain in 2014 – which was on his field trip bucket list.

This Mysterious Fire in Australia Has Been Burning For at Least 6,000 Years (1)Rein at Mount Wingen in 2014. (Copyright Guillermo Rein)

Unlike a typical fire, a coal seam fire burns underground; it's smoldering, which means there's no flame and it's more like embers in a barbecue, rather than a typical coal fire. It's also not to be confused with more dramatic coal seam gas fires, which are known to set even waterways on fire.

The fire at Mount Wingen is currently burning around 30 meters underground, and moving south at a speed of around 1 meter (3.2 ft) per year.

If you visit the national park – which is open to tourists – the only current evidence of its existence is some smoke and white ash, ground that's warm to the touch, discolored rocks of yellow and red, and a sulfuric smell emitted as the fire below cooks the minerals of the mountain.

This Mysterious Fire in Australia Has Been Burning For at Least 6,000 Years (2)(Beruthiel/Wikimedia, public domain)

But even though it's mostly invisible now, the path the fire has taken is visible upon closer investigation, with more recently burnt areas covered in ash and devoid of plant life.

"Ahead of the fire where it hasn't arrived you see this beautiful eucalyptus forest. Where the fire is now there's absolutely nothing alive, not even grass," says Rein. "And where the fire was 20 to 30 years ago, the forest has come back, but it's a different forest – the fire has shaped the landscape."

(Video) Some Places on Earth have Been on Fire for 6000 Years!

This Mysterious Fire in Australia Has Been Burning For at Least 6,000 Years (3)A sign at Burning Mountain National Park. (Copyright Guillermo Rein)

Many coal seam fires, particularly those in India, China, and the US, are caused by human interference such as coal mining – think of the infamous fire below Centralia, Pennsylvania, the now-deserted town that inspired Silent Hill, which has been burning for almost 60 years.

But that's a mere blink of an eye compared to the thousands of years of Burning Mountain.

Who started the fire?

Interestingly, no one's sure what first ignited it.

The first documented European sighting was in 1828, when a local farmhand declared he'd discovered a volcano in the Mount Wingen region.

Only a year later in 1829, geologist Reverend CPN Wilton concluded the alleged volcano was actually a coal seam fire. Measurements have since shown that the path of the fire covers around 6.5 kilometers (4 miles) – suggesting it's been alight for at least 6,000 years. But other than that, hardly any official research has been done on the area.

The site is considered sacred by the traditional custodians, the Wanaruah people, who used it for cooking and crafting weapons. Their origin stories talk about a widow whose tears ignited the fire, or the torch of a warrior captured by the 'Evil One' under the mountain.

According to Rein, natural causes are the most likely source.

(Video) This Hellish Crater Has Been on Fire for Almost 50 Years

"You cannot rule out anthropogenic interference, but it was most likely natural causes," he explains. "It could have been wildfire from a lighting strike that ignited an outcrop. Or it could have been self-heating ignition."

Self-heating ignition happens when the coal seam is close enough to the surface for coal to be exposed to oxygen. If there are enough sunny and hot days in a row – something that we'll see more of with climate change – the surface of the coal heats up and gets hot enough to heat up the next piece in the seam, eventually sparking ignition.

Studies show that the self-heating point for coal can range from just 35 to 140 degrees Celsius (95 to 284 °F).

What's perhaps more fascinating is we don't know exactly how old the fire is, either. Researchers have found evidence that indicates the same fire could have been burning a lot longer.

"It's not just that it's 6,000 years old… it's at least 6,000 years old," says Rein. "It could actually be hundreds of thousands of years old."

It's worth noting this evidence is unpublished and not peer-reviewed so needs to be taken with a grain of salt. But it only adds to the mystery of this understudied fire.

This Mysterious Fire in Australia Has Been Burning For at Least 6,000 Years (4)Painting of Mount Wingen by Emma Macpherson, 1833-1915. (Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons)

Under its own steam

How long will Mount Wingen burn? No one really knows that, either; we don't know how far the coal seam stretches or where it goes next. For now, it has no shortage of oxygen supply.

(Video) Burning Mountain

"It could burn for thousands of years without human intervention," says Rein.

"As the fire progresses, it heats up the mountain causing it to expand and crack, letting in oxygen so the fire can then move forward. The fire produces its own chimney and its own supply of oxygen."

Even with human intervention, coal seam fires are notoriously hard to put out, requiring tonnes of water and liquid nitrogen. In 2004, China claimed to have extinguished a fire that had been burning for 50 years, only to have visitors see signs of it burning a few years later.

Interestingly, during Rein's visit in 2014, he noted that the smolder at Burning Mountain was approaching a cliff down to a small river. Depending on what the coal seam does at that river, we could see some dramatic changes to Burning Mountain within the next decades.

"The coal seam might break through and come out very close to the surface of the cliff, which could result in flames with much more heat," says Rein. He predicts that this may be similar to what happened in 1828 when the fire was mistaken for a volcano.

"Or if the coal seam goes very deep it will extinguish itself and smolder out – which would be very dramatic if that happens during our lifetime after burning for possibly hundreds of thousands of years," Rein adds.

One thing worth noting is that while Mount Wingen is far away enough from civilization to cause harm, larger coal fires can be a serious health and safety hazard that have become far more common in recent years.

Not only could they become more common due to climate change, they could also be contributing to the plight of our planet. Very little study has been done into how significant the impact is of coal fire greenhouse gases, but they're known to release large amounts of CO2, methane, as well as other pollutants such as mercury.

(Video) He's Been Locked In This Machine For 70 Years

"The impact of climate change on coal seam fires, and the impact of coal seam fires on climate change is definitely something we should be very concerned about," Rein tells ScienceAlert.

"What's most frustrating as an engineer is that no one is benefitting from these fires – it's a huge potential source of heat and energy that's going untapped."

While further research is needed into coal seam fires as our planet heats up, it's somewhat comforting to know that mysteries such as Burning Mountain still exist relatively unstudied and unknown on this information-overloaded planet – and you can safely visit it when you're next in Australia.


What is the longest burning fire Australia? ›

In eastern Australia, these three components have been going strong since prehistoric times, leading to the longest-lasting known fire in the world: a scorcher that has burned beneath Mount Wingen in New South Wales for at least 5,500 years — although some geologists suspect it could be up to 500,000 years old.

Where is the fire that has been burning for years? ›

The Centralia mine fire is a coal-seam fire that has been burning in the labyrinth of abandoned coal mines underneath the borough of Centralia, Pennsylvania, United States, since at least May 27, 1962. Its original cause and start date are still a matter of debate.

What fire has been burning the longest? ›

Over 5500 years ago a coal seam beneath the exterior of Australia's Burning Mountain ignited 90 feet below the surface making it the longest known continuous fire on the planet.

What caused the Burning Mountain in Australia? ›

Most assumed the fire was caused by volcanic activity, but it is now clear coal was ignited by a lightning strike or brush fire thousands of years earlier. The area is administered by NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and is a natural reserve.

Is there a fire that has never stopped burning? ›

The Darvaza gas crater fire, near Derweze, Turkmenistan, is a large hole leaking natural gas that has been burning since 1971. An eternal flame near Kirkuk, Iraq, known to the locals as Baba Gurgur, is said to have been burning for thousands of years.

Where is the biggest fire in the world? ›

The Chinchaga Fire started in logging slash in British Columbia, Canada, on 1 June 1950 that grew out of control and ended five months later on 31 October in Alberta; in that time, it burned approximately 1.2 million hectares (3 million acres) of boreal forest.

What place has been burning for 40 years? ›

A crater in Turkmenistan has been on fire for roughly 50 years. The country's president recently announced plans to put out the flaming attraction, which measures about 230 feet wide and at least 100 feet deep. George Kourounis has been to that crater, which is referred to as the Gates of Hell.

What US town has been burning for 50 years? ›

Half a century ago, a landfill fire in the Pennsylvanian town of Centralia spread underground to an abandoned coal mine. The blaze has been burning beneath the community ever since.

Is there a fire that has been burning for 40 years? ›

Welcome now to the Gates of Hell, aflame for the last 40 years or so in the middle of Turkmenistan's Karakum Desert. While there are various origin stories for this incredible sight, the Darvaza gas crater has been attracting tourists — and spiders — since the last part of the 20th century.

What is America's hottest fire? ›

Acetylene and pure oxygen burns blue, at over 3,400ºC – the hottest temperature readily achievable with fuel and flame. That's hot enough to melt tungsten, which has the highest melting point of any element.

What was the worst fire in history? ›

The 1871 Peshtigo Fire, Wisconsin

The blaze started on October 8 1871 and burned around 1.2 million acres. At least 1 152 people were killed, making this the worst fire that claimed more lives than any of the other wildfires in US history.

What has been the worst fire in history? ›

1. 2003 Siberian Taiga Fires (Russia) – 55 Million Acres. In 2003 – during one of the hottest summers Europe experienced up to that point – a series of extremely devastating blazes in the taiga forests of Eastern Siberia destroyed over 55 million acres (22 million hectares) of land.

What is the Burning Mountain myth? ›

Wanaruah mythology, passed through generations, tells the story of Burning Mountain like this: one day, the Gumaroi people, north of the Liverpool Range, sent a raiding party south to steal Wanaruah women. The Wiradjuri people to the west warned the Wanaruah, who sent their best warriors out for a great battle.

What is the name of the forest burning in Australia? ›

Eastern Australia is one of the most fire-prone regions of the world, and its predominant eucalyptus forests have evolved to thrive on the phenomenon of bushfire. However, the fires can cause significant property damage and loss of both human and animal life.

What is the main cause of wildfires in Australia? ›

Scientists have long warned that this hotter, drier climate will contribute to fires becoming more frequent and more intense. The more extreme weather patterns and higher temperatures increase the risk of bushfires and allow them to spread faster and wider.

Is there anything burning forever? ›

Natural eternal flames can be caused by static electrical discharge or accidental human activity, but the longest burning fires in the world are typically a result of lightning strikes. And the oldest known natural eternal flame is at Mount Wingen, Australia – otherwise known as the Burning Mountain.

Is there a place on Earth that is always on fire? ›

The Door to Hell is a natural gas field in Derweze, Turkmenistan, and is known for its natural gas fire which has been burning continuously since it was lit by Soviet petrochemical scientists in 1971.

Can fire only exist on Earth? ›

But like humans, fire requires free oxygen — molecular oxygen uncombined with other elements. This free oxygen has not been detected in appreciable amounts in our solar system or on exoplanets.

What country has the worst fires? ›

List of largest fires of the 21st century
12019–2020 Australian bushfire seasonAustralia
22021 Russia wildfiresRussia
32019 Siberia wildfiresRussia
42014 Northwest Territories firesCanada
9 more rows

What is the largest fire ever in the United States? ›

In the summer of 1910, the largest fire in American history raged in the Northern Rockies.

What state has the biggest fire? ›

Top 10 States For Wildfires Ranked By Number Of Fires And By Number Of Acres Burned, 2021
RankStateNumber of fires
3North Carolina5,151
6 more rows

Where is the fire that never stops burning? ›

Photos reveal the amazing Ateshgah Fire Temple in Azerbaijan

“This fire has burned 4,000 years and never stopped,” says Aliyeva Rahila. “Even the rain coming here, snow, wind – it never stops burning.” Ahead, tall flames dance restlessly across a 10-meter stretch of hillside, making a hot day even hotter.

How is the Darvaza gas crater still burning? ›

The Soviets decided to burn off the gas by setting it on fire to prevent the dangerous fumes from spreading. Unfortunately, tapping into a vast natural reservoir of flammable methane gas, the pit has been burning since then, even growing in size over time.

When did death by burning begin? ›

Medieval Inquisition and the burning of heretics

Burning heretics had become customary practice in the latter half of the twelfth century in continental Europe, and death by burning became statutory punishment from the early 13th century.

What US city burned down? ›

The Great Chicago Fire was a conflagration that burned in the American city of Chicago during October 8–10, 1871.
Great Chicago Fire
Date(s)October 8, 1871 – October 10, 1871
Burned area2,112 acres (8.55 km2)
Buildings destroyed17,500 buildings
6 more rows

Why can t the Centralia fire be put out? ›

However, experts believe the fires under Centralia could burn another 250 years before they exhaust the coal supply that fuels them. Why don't firemen simply put them out? They can't! The fires are too deep and burn too hot to be fought effectively.

Is it safe to visit Centralia PA? ›

The main danger to visitors exploring the borough is subsidence. Subsidence occurs when the ground gives way to form a sink hole or other change in elevation The mine fire under Centralia Pennsylvania has increased the risk of sudden, unexpected subsidence.

How hot is a human on fire? ›

The changes occurring during cremation were watched and documented in 15 undissected bodies to be cremated. It was found that at temperatures between 670 and 810 degrees C the body showed the "pugilistic attitude" after about 10 minutes.

What is the highest temperature a human can survive? ›

It is commonly held that the maximum temperature at which humans can survive is 108.14-degree Fahrenheit or 42.3-degree Celsius. A higher temperature may denature proteins and cause irreparable damage to brain.

What's the hottest place on Earth? ›

Death Valley holds the record for the highest air temperature on the planet: On 10 July 1913, temperatures at the aptly named Furnace Creek area in the California desert reached a blistering 56.7°C (134.1°F). Average summer temperatures, meanwhile, often rise above 45°C (113°F).

What fire killed the most people in history? ›

The largest community in the affected area was Peshtigo, Wisconsin which had a population of approximately 1,700 residents. The fire burned about 1.2 million acres and is the deadliest wildfire in recorded history, with the number of deaths estimated between 1,500 and 2,500.

What is the 2nd largest fire loss in US history? ›

Largest fire losses in the United States
Loss in Year Fire OccurredAdjusted Loss in 2018 Dollars
1. The World Trade Center New York City, New York September 11, 2001$33.4 billion$47.4 billion
2. Northern California Wildfire Urban Interface Fire October 8, 2017$10 billion$10.2 billion
23 more rows

What are the 3 deadliest fires in the history of the US? ›

  • 1933 – Griffith Park Fire in Los Angeles, California, killed 29 firefighters on October 3.
  • 1933 – Tillamook Burn, Oregon.
  • 1936 – Kursha-2, 1200 killed.
  • 1936 – Bandon, Oregon, Bandon's entire commercial district was destroyed, total loss stated at the time was US$3 million, with 11 fatalities.

What states have the worst wildfires? ›

The state of California sees the most wildfires than any other state in the U.S. In 2021, over 2.5 million acres burned in the Golden State, as well as 3,629 structures.

What states are burning right now? ›

Current Wildfires Burning in the U.S.
  • Texas. 38 fires. 2,070 acres.
  • Arizona. 5 fires. 146 acres.
  • Oklahoma. 2 fires. 12 acres.
  • California. 32 fires. 4 acres.
  • Nevada. 2 fires. 0 acres.

Is Fire on the Mountain a true story? ›

"Fire on the Mountain", written by John MacLean, is the true story of the 1994 South Canyon forest fire, where 14 firefighters and support personnel lost their lives.

What is the mountain god? ›

Mountain God is a deity widely worshipped in China. It is especially adored by people living in the mountainous areas or the forests. They are convinced that only by the blessing of Mountain God, can they live a prosperous life. Among the “Five Sacred Mountains”, Mount Tai is regarded as the foremost one.

Is the burning mountain still burning? ›

According to scientific reports, called the "Burning Mountain," this mysterious underground blaze has been burning for 6,000 years.

Did Australia recover from the fires? ›

Yet the country is still recovering from record-breaking wildfires two years ago that killed at least 33 people, destroyed thousands of homes and burned more than 65,000 square miles of land. How quickly the natural landscape recovers depends on the climate over the coming years.

How long did the forest fire in Australia last? ›

The fires spanned from June 2019 to May 2020, peaking in January 2020. Aside from the fires' record-breaking size, burning approximately 18,636,079 hectares, scientists noted the immense amount of smoke that was circumnavigating the globe.

Why did the forests in Australia burn? ›

Large fuel loads in the shrubby layers of vegetation enable flames to more easily reach tree canopies, causing intense and dangerous “crown” fires. Long before British invasion of southeast Australia in 1788, Indigenous people managed Australia's flammable vegetation with “cultural burning” practices.

What was the biggest fire in Australia? ›

On February 7, 2009, the “Black Saturday Bushfires” became the worst natural disaster in Australia's history.

What was Australia's worst fires? ›

Of all the recorded fires in Australia, the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in the state of Victoria claimed the largest number of recorded deaths of any individual Australian bushfire or bushfires season – 173 fatalities over 21 days.

How long did the Australian fires burn for? ›

The fires spanned from June 2019 to May 2020, peaking in January 2020. Aside from the fires' record-breaking size, burning approximately 18,636,079 hectares, scientists noted the immense amount of smoke that was circumnavigating the globe.

How long did the Australia forest fire last? ›

Fires raged from September 2019 to March 2020 at an unprecedented scale; over 46 million acres of land was burned, an area the size of Syria, approximately 3,500 homes were destroyed, and 34 people lost their lives.

What was Australia worst fire season on record? ›

The worst season recorded is 1974-75, with 117 million hectares (290 million acres) burned, equivalent to 15 percent of Australia's physical land mass that equates to the entire area of France, Spain, and Portugal combined.

Is Centralia still burning? ›

All of Centralia's buildings were condemned; its ZIP code was eliminated. Seven residents remained via court order; they are forbidden from passing down their property or selling it. Today, Centralia still burns as one of 38 known active mining fires in the Pennsylvania.

How did they stop the Australian fires? ›

Firefighters are spraying water and fire retardant from planes and helicopters as well as from the ground. But fighting bush fires is extremely difficult and often authorities have to focus on just stopping the spread, rather than putting the fire out.

When did the fire happen in Australia? ›

The 2019–20 Australian bushfire season or Black Summer was a period of bushfires in many parts of Australia, which, due to its unusual intensity, size, duration, and uncontrollable dimension, is considered a megafire.

How did fires start in Australia? ›

Extreme drought in 2019 gave rise to bush fires of unprecedented intensity, which burnt more than 5.8 million hectares. In addition to causing catastrophic damage, the fires generated plumes of smoke that rose into the atmosphere and bumped up temperatures in the lower stratosphere over Australia by 3 °C.

What happened in the forest fire in Australia? ›

The bushfires in Australia have an enormous impact on humans as well as the country's larger ecosystem and landscape. Direct impacts of such fires are first and foremost the destruction of millions of hectares of land and buildings along with human fatalities.

How many homes did the Australian fire burn? ›

The number of homes destroyed in the 2019/2020 fire season across New South Wales, Australia amounted to almost 2,400 as of the 27th of January.
1 more row
Jan 3, 2023

What was the worst wildfire in history? ›

Canada and the United States
18712,500,000 acres (1,000,000 ha)Great Michigan Fire
1876500,000 acres (200,000 ha)Bighorn Fire
18811,000,000 acres (400,000 ha)Thumb Fire
1889300,000 acres (120,000 ha)Santiago Canyon Fire
50 more rows

How bad are the fires in Australia? ›

Dozens of fires erupted in New South Wales, Australia, prompting the government to declare a state of emergency in November 2019. Fires rapidly spread across all states to become some of the most devastating on record. An area about the size of South Korea, roughly 25.5 million acres, has burned.

Does Australia have more wildfires than California? ›

The numbers from Australia dwarf those from some of the most high-profile fires in recent years. The bushfires in southeastern Australia this season have burned about eight times as much land as the 2018 fires in California, which covered nearly two million acres and were the worst in that state's recorded history.


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