Author(s): Angelo Verzoni. Published on May 1, 2020.


Recent news items from the world of fire and life safety that make you go, 'Huh?'


In April, the state of Pennsylvania ordered a disused, 3/4-mile stretch of Route 61 to be buried in truckloads of dirt and closed off to the public once and for all.

The stretch of road, which runs through the mostly abandoned town of Centralia, is anything but normal. Sure, it’s blanketed in colorful splashes of graffiti, the source of its nickname as Pennsylvania’s Graffiti Highway, but it’s also unique in another, more alarming way: it runs over ground that’s been burning for nearly 60 years.

In 1962, officials in Centralia started a trash fire to get rid of garbage, and the fire ignited a coal seam beneath the town. The underground fire has burned ever since, turning Centralia into a ghost town over the years. The Graffiti Highway, officials told CNN in April, had become a tourist attraction but also a liability. “I think a few weeks ago, there was a fire there, people just starting fires,” a local coal company representative told CNN. “They’re doing a lot of damage to the community there, and it’s time that ends right now.”


As the coronavirus pandemic began to sweep the globe in March, frantic shoppers wiped shelves bare of cleaning supplies and paper products, including toilet paper.

Panic ensued, so much so that in mid-March, the police department in the small city of Newport, Oregon, felt the need to issue a statement urging residents not to dial 911 when their TP stocks reached a critical low. “It’s hard to believe that we have to post this,” the department wrote on Facebook. “Do not call 911 just because you ran out of toilet paper.”

So what’s one to do when Mother Nature calls and all that’s left in the bathroom is old People magazines and a half-empty can of Febreze? As the Newport Police Department suggested in its post, it’s time to get creative. “History offers many other options,” the department said. “Seamen used old rope and anchor lines soaked in saltwater. Ancient Romans used a sea sponge on a stick, also soaked in saltwater. We are a coastal town. We have an abundance of saltwater available. Seashells were also used. Mayans used corncobs. Colonial Americans also used the core of the cob.” The department went on to suggest 10 other toilet paper alternatives in its post, which was shared over 11,000 times.


The plan seemed simple enough: Use a rifle to blast an explosive target that had been jerry rigged to burst pink or blue, announcing the sex of a Florida couple’s unborn child.

Things didn’t go quite as planned at the April 1 gender reveal party. Instead, the explosive target sparked a 10-acre brush fire in Brevard County, just east of Orlando. Firefighters were able to control the blaze in a matter of hours, preventing any injuries or property damage.

“Something as seemingly innocent as a gender reveal can turn into a large-scale disaster,” Brevard County Fire Chief Mark Schollymeyer warned in an interview with a local TV news station. “We want to prevent those wildfires started carelessly.”

Fires and explosions related to gender reveal parties are nothing new, as it turns out, and some have inflicted far more harm than the Florida incident. In October, an Iowa woman was killed by flying debris from an explosion initiated during a gender reveal party. In 2017, a gender reveal party in Arizona led to the Sawmill Fire, a wildland blaze that torched over 45,000 acres and resulted in $8 million in property damage. That blaze, like the Florida one, was also sparked by an exploding gun target.


First it was a dog, then it was a turtle. This time it’s a pig.

For the third issue running, our roundup of head-scratching fire and life safety news features a fire-starting creature from the United Kingdom.

In early March, BBC News reported that fire crews had been called to a farm in Leeds, England, to respond to a report of a blaze that had spread through four pigpens. Apparently, the pigs had been outfitted with pedometers to prove they were free-range. After one pig ate the pedometer off of another pig and the pedometer-eating pig defecated, the copper inside the pedometer battery reacted with the pig’s feces, as well as the dry bedding inside the pens, and ignited a fire.

About 800 square feet of hay burned in the fire, according to a Twitter post from the North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service. “A hose reel was used to extinguish the fire and save the bacon,” the department tweeted.

Previously, a dog in Yorkshire started a house fire when it inadvertently turned on a microwave that had bread stored in it, and a tortoise started a house fire in Essex when it knocked a heat lamp onto its bedding. —AV

ANGELO VERZONI is staff writer for NFPA Journal. Top photograph: Getty Images