Latest update, this part, 19 November 2004
The author is currently betting on methane or some other volcanic related gas as being the primary fuel. Best he can tell, the sea-level village at Canneto is more or less a compact walled city, where the outer walls of the homes that line the single village street constitute the city wall. If that is the case, then the walled city would be more prone to prevent dispersion of combustible gases than would be a collection of stand-alone homes. One "Fires of Canneto" discussion group contributor suggests that when winter is over, residents will open up their houses more and the problem will likely go away. (The author has not yet seen any reports regarding the results of air sampling at Canneto.)
Ignition sources, which can be considered as related to human activity, would include, electrical arcs occurring in household appliances or non-intrinsically safe electrical/electronic devices (loose battery contacts on cell phones for instance). One other human activity related ignition source, which should be considered at Canneto, is volcanic ash producing electrical sparks by triboluminescence when crushed or ground underfoot. Vigorous sweeping of floors, where somebody really bears down on the broom, might even produce ash sparks.
11 April 2004
Suppose, for example, that gas molecules being forced to move through the earth (the volcanic thing) get electrons stripped from them during glancing/frictional collisions with rock faces and soil particles. If that happened to be the case, then the gas that finally escapes to the open air would be positively charged and the ground through which it passed would acquire a negative charge. When the charged air molecules, say inside somebody's kitchen, come into contact with metal objects which are insulated from ground, those metal objects will tend to release electrons to the gas molecules and thereby become positively charged themselves. In conditions of low relative humidity (In mid January 2004 the humidity was very low in the Sicily region. See Part 2. ), substantial electrostatic charges can build up in the metal objects which can then lead to electrical discharges/arcs when someone is about to touch them. If the gas which was involved in the electrical charge transport process happened to be, say, methane, has also built up to a flammable concentration, ka-floosh!
About metal objects becoming charged by air molecules
In some cases, (if a grounding object is in close enough proximity to the metallic object) the static charge
buildup may become high enough to arc to ground without human intervention. (The power-plug prongs
of an unplugged appliance's power cord lying on a floor might do the trick.)
12 April 2004
In this particular case the ignition source was most likely an arc between air conditioner electrical contacts. The fuel for the initial bursting into flames may have been the hypothetical methane (or some other, as yet unidentified, gas.) If a flammable gas was the only fuel then the flare-up should have extinguished itself in less than one second, but the air conditioner was reported to "burn down in 30 seconds." A secondary, more sustaining, fuel seems to have been part of the picture. Volcanic ash (which is reported to be flammable) which had settled inside the air conditioner (especially in the condenser or air filter) may have been the culprit.
Caution! If it turns out that some flammable gas present in Canneto, regardless of its source, volcanic ash cleanup will be more complicated because the physically abused ash can be a source of sparks. Until flammable gas is eliminated as a contributing problem, minimizing electrical sparks inside homes will be paramount.
If sulfurous fumes start to be detected in Canneto, inhabitants should start to go to other towns.
11 September 2004
According to Volcano News - John Seach (Saturday 11
September 2004)(*) the Etna fracture opened without seismic warning. "The new fissure, combined with a layer of snow, created impressive explosions." On Thursday, 9 September, Volcano News reported that,
as of Wednesday afternoon, seismic activity was being recorded at Mt. Etna with increasing frequency and
Readers may view Etna's new activity on the Etna Trekking or the INGV [Doesn't work.] WebCams. These units refresh about every thirty seconds. Keep in mind that, time-wise, Sicily is 7 hours ahead of U.S.Central Standard Time. (2:00 pm US CST = 9:00 pm at Mt. Etna.)
The Etna Trekking WebCam installation seems to be located on a cindercone just north of the ridge that forms the northern boundary of the Bove Valley. It has two cameras. The INGV webpage has maps that show their camera locations.
The following four notes were made while the author was coming to get a handle on the location of the Etna Trekking installation. It demonstrates a well-worn stumble and bumble technique for problem solving.
11 September 2004, 7:00 p.m. CST
11 Sep 2004, 10:36 p.m CST
11 Sep 2004, 10:30 p.m. CST
12 Sep 2004, 01:00 a.m. CST
22 October 2004
Full story (in English) is at: AGI online.(*)
27 October 2004
(1) Thomas Gold, http://people.cornell.edu/pages/tg21/Earthq.html - Earthquakes, Gases, and Earthquake Prediction, (1994). [Ref is cited in Part 3. Link needs updating.]
(2)Thomas Gold, http://people.cornell.edu/pages/tg21/eyewit.html, - Eye-witness Accounts of Several Major Earthquakes, (1987). [Ref is cited in Part 3. Link needs updating.]
(3) F. Antonioli, S. Kershaw, P. Renda, D. Rust, G. Belluomini, M. Cerasoli, U Radtke and S. Silenzi, [DOC] http://aiqua.irtr.rm.cnr.it/23%2024%2025.doc Altitude of the Last Interglacial Highstand in Sicily (Italy) and its Implication for Tectonic [Ref cited in Part 4. Link needs updating.]
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La pericolosità simica in Italia - (In Italian.) [The seismic dangers in Italy] English speaking readers may be able to right click on the page and select the Google™ Translate into English function. The article mentions a 20 March 2004 update of seismic danger zones in Italy, including Sicily. (A miniature map insert, a preview?, shows what seems to be a seismic hot spot at or just west (within ten miles) of Canneto di Caronia.)
Sono solo fenomeni naturali... probabilmente. Dichiarato lo stato di calamità naturale per Caronia - (In Italian) [Only a natural phenomena?... probably. State of natural calamity declared for Caronia.] Article discusses ways of predicting earthquakes with possible sub-surface seismic connections to the Canneto fires in mind.