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    We Didn't Start the Fire

    Ever the chronicler of the unusual and bizarre Charles Fort's final book on his “damned data” entitled Wild Talents looked into human beings that had apparently supernatural or paranormal abilities. Of particular interest to me lately has been the incidents that he reported on of firestarters, humans that apparently have the ability to start fires with their minds or in some case can actually breath fire. This fascinates me because we have cases that are allegedly still occurring even today. Just within the last few weeks another of what I would call a “classic” example of a firestarter cropped up in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam. But more on that later. First let's back up and examine this phenomena with some examples that Fort had first related in his book.

    Pulling from the Glasgow News dated May 20, 1878, Fort tells about a farmhouse in Bridgewater that was owned by a John Shattock. According to the news article fires began starting up with no apparent sources. A superintendent of police suspected that a 12 year old servant girl named Ann Kidner was to blame for the incidents because he saw her pass by as a hayrick caught fire. If, like me, you're not sure what a hayrick is don't feel bad. I had to look it up. But basically a hayrick is a criss-crossed stack of hay. So, it seemed that as the girl was walking past a stack of hay it caught fire. It seemed to the superintendent of police that it must have been the girl that was causing the fires.

    There are a few more interesting details to note in this case however. During this same period that the unexplained fires were occurring, the house also had loud rapping sounds that could be heard and objects in the house began to move about on their own. If this sounds a lot like poltergeist activity don't be surprised. After all in both poltergeist cases and these firestarter cases you are almost exclusively deal with teenagers that tend to be female though not in every case. The last bit we learn about what came of Kidner is that she was finally arrested and accused of tossing matches around the house thus causing the fires. She was freed by the local magistrate because they simply did not have enough evidence to convict her.

    Another great example that Fort was able to discover came from the New Zealand Times Dec 9 1886, though the story ran originally in the San Francisco Bulletin on October 14 of that same year. It tells of a Willie Brough, also 'coincidentally' 12 years old from the town of Turlock , Madison County, California who caused some consternation when he was expelled from his school. The reason for the expulsion? Apparently Brough was causing fires with his glances. His parents were convinced that the poor kid was possessed by the devil and sent him away. Luckily for Brough he was adopted by a farmer who sent him to another school. On his first day at the school there were a total of five fires that occurred there. One was in the center of the school's ceiling, one happened in the teacher's desk, one in her wardrobe, and two were on the walls of the school. Unfortunately for Brough, he discovered the fires and, probably because of his reputation, was expelled from his new school that very same day.

    I wish to look at just one more of Fort's examples that he had dug out of the newspaper archives. I would strongly recommend that you read Wild Talents for the rest of the stories that Fort chronicles, both of firestarters and of other peculiar 'Occult' powers of human beings. Finally in the London Daily Mail dated Dec 13, 1921 a young boy of 13 living in Budapest is said to have had furniture that moves on it's own accord only in his presence. Also of interest to us, around about his twelfth birthday fires would break out in his presence that seemed not to have an obvious source. The neighbors of his village were apparently so frightened by the strange circumstances that they actually drove he and his mother out.

    Firestarters have certainly not gone away in the past 80 plus years since Fort wrote about them in Wild Talents. As mentioned earlier, just a few weeks prior to this article being published, the news came out that a young girl was evidently lighting fires using some kind of occult or paranormal ability in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. According to the news site Ngoisao an unnamed 11 year old girl has been sighted as the cause of a fire which nearly destroyed the third floor of her families home. Her parents are insisting that their daughter caused the fire through some kind of ability she possesses to produce the fires. They first noticed it a few months ago when wiring in their house's electrical wiring continually short-circuited and then they noticed that flames would begin to appear in the outlets as their daughter would walk by them. Her father swears that she has no access to anything that could produce fires and so we have to take him at his word. To lend even more credence to their being something to do with the daughter somehow being the source of these fires it that the family went on vacation to Vung Tau beach, the apartment the family was staying at also caught fire.

    What's most fascinating about this case, unlike the vast majority of other paranormal instances, is that the family has taken the girl to see a doctor who actually listened to them and performed tests to determining what could be causing the girl to produce the fires. Du Quang Chau, an expert in radiesthesia at the Hong Bang International University in Ho Chi Minh city conducted a series of tests on the girl. After performing a number of tests on the girl they noticed something unusual in the right hemisphere of her brain. A Dr. Nguyen Manh Hung said that after doing a Radio Frequency Interference test they discovered a halo of some kind that seemed to be coming from the child's right hemisphere. What this means, and how it may relate to her supposed fire starting ability remains to be seen.

    In his usual fashion, Fort had developed a kind of working theory to explain these bizarre circumstances. He wondered if perhaps in our distant past, before man had learned to make fire on his own, some people were born with the ability to produce fires either through their mind or as in some cases by simply breathing on items and igniting them. Fort speculated that these individuals who were firestarters would be highly regarded within their society. After all fire was used for so many things in our past. It could serve as a source of light, a means of cooking food, and for warmth in the winter months. Fort put it like this:

    I think of these fire-agents as the most valuable members of a savage community, in primitive times: most likely beginning humbly, regarded as freaks; most likely persecuted at first, but becoming established, and then so overcharging for their services that it was learned how, by rubbing sticks, to do without them- so then their fall from importance, and the dwindling of them into their present, rare occurrence- but their preservation of them....by Nature, as an insurance, because there's no knowing when we'll all go back to savagery again... (Wild Talents, pg 927)

    It seemed reasonable to Fort that perhaps this power could exist as a vestigial part of some humans that was passed down genetically. The trait would be recessive in most cases, but apparently not in all as it does crop up from time to time. I rather like this idea, at least as a hypothetical to play with. For the sake of fairness, I can't for sure how seriously Fort took this idea. After all he was known for being a bit of a humorist and often touting some ideas in a rather tongue-in-cheek fashion. Still the idea that it could be a latent ability that human beings have can still be considered. Certain eastern traditions hold that, through meditation and discipline, the adept is able to channel energy called Chi or Qi. In one supposed demonstration of this ability a Qi Gong Master is seen to light some paper on fire with out the aid of any sort of combustible materials. I'll link to the YouTube video so that you can look for yourself and determine what you make of his abilities.

    The obvious difference between the concept of channeling Chi in order to produce fire and the examples that we have looked into is that one of them is deliberate and, so far as we know, the others were accidental. Again, not entirely unlike the poltergeist phenomena that also seems to either center around or be produced by young people, most of the cases of these inexplicable fires happen to children. Perhaps as has been suggested by others, since kids are more innocent and more open to the paranormal and bizarre they are able to tap into things that adults can't or won't. This could be why in things like Qi Gong, one is only able to manifest these kinds of abilities through years of hard work and dedication. Because in some respects you are undoing years of programming in order to tap into these kinds of powers.

    Sadly, I really don't know the answer. All we can do is hopefully continue to collect these kinds of damned data and trust that someone is willing to scientifically study these things in order to learn the truth. That or I suppose we could just wait until we revert back to savages and the ability becomes necessary again. Until then I think I'll stick to matches if I need to start a fire, otherwise if I get cold in the winter I'll simply turn up the thermostat a bit.