On July 7, the Worland Fire Department (WFD) in Washakie County, Wyoming was called to a recycling facility after reports of an “unknown type of fire,” as the department explained in a Facebook video of the conflagration that has since gone viral. Yeah I’d call that shit “unknown,” for sure.
What firefighters found was a sulfur mound that accidentally ignited from someone riding a goddamn motorcycle(!!!) over it, creating both mesmerizing, otherworldly flames and dangerous sulfur dioxide gas. On its Facebook post, the WFD explained that the mound was leftover from a plant north of the community that operated in the 1950s.
WFD Fire Chief Chris Kocher told me in a phone interview that the sulfur came in contact with the bike’s exhaust pipe and exhaust manifold, which can reach between 1,200 to 1,500 degrees loFahrenheit, causing a fire. It’s an accident that’s not uncommon in that part of the state, Kocher said, but usually, it’s with brush or grass—not sulfur.
As for the video of the strange sight, the WFD helpfully explains in its Facebook post that “we captured the video, while in full [Personal Protective Equipment] and wearing SCBA’s during a size up of the situation, as crews were setting up for suppression.” The SCBA, or self-contained breathing apparatus, is what’s creating the Darth Vader-like breathing sounds in the video.
Extinguishing a sulfur fire is a delicate process. Throw a deluge of water on it in a steady stream, and you could create sulfur dust clouds, or an explosion if it’s in a tank, and a whole new type of hellscape. You’ll probably never encounter one yourself (the last time Kocher dealt with one in his career was 12 years ago), but if you ever do, Kocher said to “absolutely” call the fire department immediately. Sulfur fires are pretty, but dangerous. They were able to put the fire out with the help of hazmat technicians and years of experience with these types of fires in oil fields, Kocher said.
In the video, tiny fire tornados crawling through the ashes make for a scene reminiscent of the scariest parts of Fantasia. In person, the burning bowl of sulfur probably smelled like Satan’s ass.
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