Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Extraordinarily Ordinary: The Fortean Vodka

“Red Lion Liquors has been in Burnsville, Minnesota, since 1978, and it’s occupied its current building for the past nine years. They have bulletproof glass to stop burglars and vandals from breaking in, but that couldn’t’ protect them from a problem that started inside. Surveillance cameras captured the slow-starting fire, which began with smoke billowing from a display of vodka bottles. Soon, a small paper sign on top simply melts away. Eventually, the heat got so intense that the tops popped off of the vodka bottles, spraying streams of steaming liquor. In the end, the display caught fire, sending some flames shooting up to 12 feet in the air. ‘We have shades on the windows. We’ll pull them down on sunny days to protect the wine on the shelves, never thinking it would ever start a fire,’ Hautman said. It turns out that sunlight coming through the window turned the vodka bottles into a magnifying glass, slowly starting the cardboard on fire while a ceiling fan above fanned the flames. ‘It was just this freak thing,’ Hautman said. Even the Burnsville fire marshal had never seen anything like it. ‘It was entertaining,’ Hautman recalled. ‘The firefighters were standing next to me like they were watching a new video game. They were going, ‘This is so cool!’” [Myfox9: Sun, vodka bottles start fire inside Burnsville liquor store - KMSP-TV]

The phenomenon is exactly as illustrated by this water bottle:

As Brazilian fellow Carlos Cardoso pondered, “sometimes the simplest explanation is extremely complex. The case of the incendiary vodka is a nice demonstration that sometimes even the simplest explanation still sounds improbable. Only thing is, the Universe hasn’t signed an EULA with us, it doesn’t have to abide by our common sense. Quoting Sherlock Holmes, ‘When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth’.”

Any reader of Fortean Times will find even more bizarrely improbable stories published monthly, and one of the great lessons I’ve learned researching and investigating extraordinary claims is that sometimes the ordinary explanations, improbable as they may sound, can actually be demonstrated! Take for instance the video that captured a meteor and an insect.

What were the chances? Certainly very small, and the idea of a meteor coming up exactly at the right time, alignment and position to overlap with the path of a wandering insect sounds preposterous. And yet, in this particular case the fact the video was rigorously captured and there were other, independent records of the meteor allow us to conclude that was exactly what happened. As in the case of the incendiary vodka, if there wasn’t the conclusive evidence, few would believe it.

The thing we often forget is that the ordinary, by definition, is so ordinary that by chance alone it not only can but will happen in extraordinary situations.

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Posted in Fortean,Skepticism | 3 comments

3 Comments so far

  1. Professor November 16th, 2012 8:50 pm

    Remembering a time when camping with my Grandfather and my Father at Salton Sea…..In the back of the family station wagon was a gallon clear glass jug of water; we had been out fishing,we came back to the camp site……..When we opened the wagon, we smelled smoke. We opened the tailgate to find sunlight had magnified through the jug…..burning a hole through the cardboard box containing the Coalman gas lantern….Thank goodness it didn’t light off the gas,or we may have come back to a charred campsite…..

  2. DrMeatwadPhd November 17th, 2012 3:26 am

    I take it they must have been closed that day? These regional ‘no liquor sales from X – Y’ are the real cause for this. If someone had been in the store, they would have caught it before the flames kicked up.

  3. Professor November 17th, 2012 9:59 am

    BTW…….numerous instances of glass,broken pieces,bottle bottoms,or otherwise have been implicated in starting fires….

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