The Northern Lights are Burning
The population of Aklavik, in Northwest Canada, has a population of less than a thousand (2011), which consists mainly of North American Indians and Inuits. The town has a saloon, a hotel, several pharmacies and a fire station with an amateur orchestra. Aklavik is located beyond the Arctic Circle and is made of almost entirely of plywood panel prefabricated houses, which resulted in devastating fires more than once.
On the night of 13th to 14th of March, 1989, the fire attendant on duty, Jim Hank, as he usually did, read the yesterday’s edition of Toronto Post, and from the corner of his eye, he watched the usual flashing of the aurora borealis. Fascinated by the study of the Stanley Cup hockey table, he was surprised to notice that the newspaper page suddenly acquired some strange reddish tinge. Hank raised his eyes to the sky and froze, struck by an unprecedented spectacle. The usually blue-green with a yellowish tinge of auroral shimmering, which covered the north-eastern part of the horizon, acquired an ominous crimson hue. The impression that was created, that from the depths of space to the ground, rushed the stockade of cyclopean red fireballs, and towards them a monstrous glow of a great fire burst out from behind the nearest hummock. Once Hank came to his senses, he rushed to call the fire bell, and soon the army or the Aklavik firefighters, on three converted to fire-engines pick-ups, rushed to the outskirts of the town. Rushing past the last buildings, the detachment ascended the nearest hill, and the firemen from in front of a fantastic and majestic spectacle. Far in the distance, above the earth, canvases of rich red color twisted into colossal pillars. They were intersected by iridescent arcs with light needles, which somehow resembled the glow of a giant fire. In such a way, over the northern regions of Canada, manifested itself the largest ionospheric storm of the past century, generated by the release of plasma from the Sun
Chasing the Glow
Sometimes, such fires cover not only the heavens, but also the surface of the earth. And if the nature of the former is more or less clear, then the nature of the latter for science is still a mystery: whether chemiluminescence (a luminescence caused by chemical reaction), or whether it is still a mysterious optical phenomenon. And such ground pseudo-fires occur not only in the circumpolar and polar regions, but also in the temperate and even in Central Asia. They are called differently, either “the red haze”, or “the purple fog”, or “the wall of ghostly fire”.
In the evening of March 2, 1984, Estonian firefighters encountered a similar phenomenon in the Rapla settlement region. That night, it burned so, that people in the whole district could see the fire. As it turned out later, the two extreme points, from which the crimson glow was visible, were separated by 60 kilometers. The first call to the fire brigade was made at 20:36. Someone has worriedly informed, that in Kehtne a farm is burning. At 20:48, the phone of the switchboard rang again, and the same person apologized: “An mistake happened. I do not know what’s with my eyes, how I could have seen it! But the Hermy’s farmhouse is obviously not burning, and it never did. The fire is somewhere further away, only the glow is very large.”
By that time, five fire engines had already ransacked the area. They chased after the glow back and forth, to the very borders of the district, but all was in vain. Surprisingly, there was no smoke anywhere!
This fire would have remained a blank spot in the dispatching journals, had it not been for the fire truck that had been dispatched from the Michurin state farm. The Sun that day had set at 18:52, and the Moon was due to appear at 21:32. The weather was good, when suddenly, grandmother Lizzie’s house blazed in the gradually gathering darkness. Eyewitnesses said that there was a feeling that a solid flame escaped from windows and closed over the roof. And all this in complete silence and in the absence of smoke! The firefighters’ car approached the house, but, instead of jumping out, the fire crew remained in the cab in perplexity. There was no fire! The house was in good standing. One of the firemen walked around the house and found no signs of burning. On the highway, the siren of another fire engine called for the help of its comrades, the neighboring houses “burned”. The pursuit of the ghostly fire continued.
Firefighters returned home, excitedly discussing what they saw: what was it all anyway? All of them served in the army, had a lot of experience and tried to compare what they saw with something familiar, but found no analogues.
The Girl and the Camel
A resident of St. Petersburg, N.H. Langova, as a child, happened in the most direct sense to run from the wall of a ghostly fire. Everything happened in Kazakhstan, when she was 14 years old. The girl’s father worked as a truck driver and often brought her to relatives and friends, and left for work. At that time, he left his daughter with her grandmother in Bazar-Tube (now Bazarchulan).
On that memorable morning, there was a beautiful windless weather, the sun was baking. Granddaughter and grandmother worked in the melon patch. The girl straightened herself to catch her breath and saw something like a cloud somewhere far away on the horizon. She and her grandmother were glad, that in the evening, perhaps, it might rain, and they continued their work. And after some 15-20 minutes, the fiery veil that covered everything around, came very close. It stretched to the right, the left and up as far as the eye could see and quickly approached. Grandmother shouted to her granddaughter to run to the village, which was about four kilometers away from them. The old grandmother stayed on the melon patch, she could not run that far.
The girl ran with all her strength. Several times she looked back and saw the wall of fire approaching. This, in the end, happened. The running girl felt that she was surrounded by orange haze, and then heard someone’s footsteps and someone’s panting by her ear. The girl, still running, did not even look back. Already near the village, the wall of ghostly fire overtook her, overtook and rushed further. And next to her, ran as if stunned, a terrified camel. In the village, the same commotion began. Even the ancient elders never saw such a phenomenon. In the evening, the father returned and told, that he also met with the veil of fire. It did not do any harm to the vehicle, although there was a barrel of gasoline in the back.
With a similar phenomenon once faced the engineer from Novosibirsk, Vadim Fedoseev. In the summer of 1980, together with Novosibirsk and Tomsk physicists, he went into a distant Taiga expedition. A group of 11 researchers, headed by Fedoseev, was preparing to study the area of the fall of the famous Tunguska meteorite and to check people’s compatibility, first went to the north, to a certain lake or even a swamp, which often had a variety of devilry. The equipment was picked in the most careful way. They took with them radios, dosimeter, photo and video equipment.
On the third day of the journey, the scientists approached a ridge of low hills and decided to rest on a well-ventilated and almost treeless peak of one of them. And when Fedoseev and his colleagues ascended it, they saw, on the other side of the hill, something incredible: the entire space in the northern part of the horizon was completely filled with boiling lava. From the fiery sea, flame bursts like protuberances, and, worst of all, all this boundless mass swiftly rose up to the encampment of the explorers.
Probably, on that evening, the physicists broke all records of the speed of running across rough terrain. Having run away to a safe distance, they came to their senses in about an hour and exchanged the most fantastic theories. But nothing else happened, and then, Fedoseev and two of his comrades went on reconnaissance. To the top of the hill, they approached like novice paratroopers to the edge of the tower. Having reached it, they were amazed no less than the first time: the fiery lava, which flooded all visible space to the horizon, disappeared! Below, behind the trees, a small cozy lake gleamed, slightly shaded with an evening mist, and further, up to the horizon, stretched the endless Taiga.
written by: Valdis Peypinysh
translated by: Dmitriy Kushnir