Meteorites, methane and the devil have been ruled out as the cause of a flaming hole in the ground at Midway.
Mickey Pendergrass, the county judge in Baxter County, said officials are still investigating the mysterious Midway hole that flared into a spectacular 12-foot flame early on the morning of Sept. 17, then burned at about 8 feet high for more than 40 minutes.
“As far as the spiritual Satan goes, we’ve ruled that out,” Pendergrass said. “He didn’t come up and stick his pitchfork in the ground and blow that hole out.”
Pendergrass said he had suspected methane, but investigators have found no source of it, such as decaying organic matter.
Pendergrass said the hole had been there for at least 10 years, according to a man who used to mow the grass on the private property along Arkansas 5. So it wasn’t caused by the recent impact of a meteorite.
“It’s kind of like an old groundhog hole, burrow, or armadillo’s,” he said. “But it’s been there a long time.”
The hole, he said, is about the size of a volleyball.
Jim Sierzchula, the Baxter County emergency management director, and geologists from the Arkansas Geological Survey investigated Sept. 21.
“They scoped the hole with a camera and determined it extended horizontal before intercepting a nearby drainage ditch about 10 feet away and 3 feet below the ground surface,” according to a report from Ty Johnson and Danny Rains with the Geological Survey. “This was determined to be an animal hole.”
Black Hills Energy also participated in the investigation.
“Although Black Hills Energy does not provide natural gas service in Midway, the local fire department contacted us to assist with their fire investigation,” according to a statement from the company. “Our technicians responded and detected no natural gas in the area.”
Pendergrass said there are no utility or fuel lines in the area that might have been leaking.
The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality checked four underground fuel storage tanks in the area, two that are in use at Midway Citgo and Deli, and two that are capped and basically empty at Gearhead Garage.
“Based on ADEQ inspections it does not appear that any of these tanks contributed to the fire,” according to a statement from the agency. “We can’t speculate about other possible causes because we have not been trained to do investigations about such scenarios.”
Donald Tucker, chief of the Midway Fire Protection District, said the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality also tested three above-ground gasoline tanks and two propane tanks, and determined that none of them were leaking.