In the middle of the Karakum Desert, located in Turkmenistan, lies the peaceful sleepy village of Derweze. Home to some 350 semi-nomadic members of the Teke tribe, Derweze sits around 290 kilometers north of Ashgabat, which as we all know is the capital of Turkmenistan.
If you’re unfamiliar with the village of Derweze, don’t worry. Truth be told, you likely aren’t aware of the towns in your own state with 350 residents, much less on the other side of the world. Simply put, there’s nothing outstanding about Darweze.
Except for, you know, the Door to Hell.
In 1971, way back when Turkmenistan was still the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic, the Soviet Russians in the area wanted to take advantage of the rich natural gas veins nearby. Harvesting natural gas certainly isn’t a strange or awful thing to do, of course. However, you must keep in mind that the Soviet Russians were pretty notorious for being “measure once, cut twice, then probably murder a LOT of your fellow countrymen” type of personalities.
So Soviet Russian geologists are wandering around in the Karakum desert, just having a good time as one is apt to do whilst in a desert, when they stumble upon a particularly rich cavern. “Oh wow, comrade!” they probably said to each other most likely, “We should put das rig here!” (okay that was German, not even trying anymore. Sorry guys). They placed a rig near Darweze and settled down to a traditional meal of vodka and sheep bladders or snow or something.
Suddenly, disaster struck! The cavern (which was, after all, a cavern, and probably wasn’t used to handling the weight of a mining rig) collapsed! What was left was a huge hole 230 feet in diameter, with a potentially dangerous gas leak right smack dab in the middle.
The geologists knew they had to do something. Not even Soviets could leave the possibility of a poisonous gas leak.
The best idea, apparently, was to light the leak on fire. “Surely the gas was only on the surface of the crater,” thought the geologists who in this situation think in perfectly conversational English, “and it will all burn away in a few days, right?” So they left, to check back on things the next day.
When they arrived, imagine their shock when they saw that nothing had changed! Actually, probably no. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and a gas pit probably isn’t fixed in one either.
The routine continued for a few days, with the geologists returning to the dig site and the site still burning. Eventually, it became clear that the fire wasn’t going out anytime soon, and the Soviets packed up and left, adapting the time-proven philosophy of hoping ignoring it would make it just go away.
Forty years later, the pit is still burning.
What exactly can we learn from The Door To Hell, as the locals call it? That sometimes even the best intentions are thwarted by a bad idea to try and light a gas leak? Or that maybe even in the driest of deserts, if we look hard enough, we can find something amazing? Or maybe there is some sort of warning about the end times here, or an allegory to Satan’s temptation lying as a constantly burning fire?
Probably not. Really all we need to know is that somewhere out in the Karakum desert near Darweze, there is one ballin’ fire pit hanging around.