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Tales from the Road: The Pillar of Fire

Some days, being a home home inspector can be quite the adventure! It's not unusual for our inspectors to witness some pretty strange events through the course of their careers (even paranormal activity)! Here's a great story that U.S. Inspect Connecticut Inspector Pat Belcher shared with us this week about his encounter with the pillar of fire:

Some days, being a home home inspector can be quite the adventure! It's not unusual for our inspectors to witness some pretty strange events through the course of their careers (even paranormal activity)! Here's a great story that U.S. Inspect Connecticut Inspector Pat Belcher shared with us this week about his encounter with the pillar of fire:


Belcher, PatIt was early spring in the Northeast about five years ago. It had been a very dry spring. I had an afternoon inspection appointment on Under Mountain Road a few miles North of Salisbury Connecticut. The sun shone brightly in a cobalt steel blue sky. I started the inspection as usual and we completed the tour of the exterior.

Next, as is my practice, we examined the basement area. We proceeded to the main floor, and as usual, the kitchen was next. But first, I decided to turn up the thermostat to allow the supply outlets to get up to temperature. I then proceeded to the kitchen sink. As I reached for the faucet handle, I looked out the window and was momentarily at a loss for words. About fifteen feet from the rear of the house, I saw a twelve foot tall pillar of fire. It was about half way to a buried propane tank.

My first thought was: “Did I just do that?” Then I blurted out: “Holy Mackerel, there is a huge fire out there.” Everyone ran to the window and looked out. The agent immediately dialed 911. The rest of us went out to look for the garden hose. I kept reminding everyone to stay clear of the area of the propane tank.

As it turned out, it was a tall evergreen shrub that seemingly burst into flame. Although the local geology might yield up a few stone tablets, if inscribed, they would likely have the type of information found on an old grave stone. Since none of us heard a booming voice from heaven, we proceeded to hose down the flames.

What we did hear was the sound of the fire crew arriving in a surprisingly short time. We had only managed to contain the spread of the fire. They, on the other hand, quickly extinguished the blaze. We were all at a loss as to how this fire had started. The fire crew explained that they had been running all over stamping out fires in the area. With conditions so dry and no leaves on the trees, an intense sun could cause a spontaneous combustion!

Although a bit unbelievable, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed plausible. Along with the above mentioned conditions, we also had the sun crossing over the top of the house and possibly striking a rear window and reflecting down to the ground. I have seen situations where the sun appeared to be striking the window of a bump out addition and reflecting back on the siding of the main house. You could see a discolored warped area of the siding. With the angles of incidence and reflection of the afternoon sun, and the location not consistant with a barbecue; my next guess would be solar energy.

I would imagine that the sellers, who may have been dreading a home inspection, after hearing the story, were grateful that we were there to avert a possible disaster. Maybe I should have said, "Holy Moses!"

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