Fire in the

About 7.14 a.m., 30 June 1908. The Central Siberian Plateau near the Stony Tunguska River, a remote and empty wilderness of swamps, bogs and hilly pine and cedar forests. Not a soul in sight for scores of kilometres. The eerie silence is punctuated by the shuffle of the hoofs of reindeer grazing in the morning sun and the hum of dense swarms of ferocious mosquitoes appropriately called 'flying alligators'.

Suddenly a blindingly bright pillar of fire, the size of a tall office building, races across the clear blue sky. The dazzling fireball moves within a few seconds from the south-southeast to the north-northwest, leaving a thick trail of light some 800 kilometres long. It descends slowly for a few minutes and then explodes about 8 kilometres above the ground. The explosion lasts only a few seconds but it is so powerful that it can be compared only with an atomic bomb - 1,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs.

The explosion flattens 2,150 square kilometres of the mighty taiga, stripping millions of ancient trees of leaves and branches, leaving them bare like telegraph poles and scattering them like matchsticks. A dark mushroom cloud of dust rises to a height of 80 kilometres over the area after the explosion. A black rain of debris and dirt follows. Shortly afterwards, bluish clouds of ice-coated dust grains are seen against the red sky.

At Vanavara, a trading station about 70 kilometres from the explosion site, a trader, S.B. Semenov, sitting outside his house is knocked off his chair by violent shock waves. The explosion emits so much heat that it seems to be burning his shirt. He said later that he had only a moment to note the size of the bright blue 'tube' that covered an enormous part of the sky. 'Afterwards it became dark and at the same time I felt an explosion that threw me several feet from the porch and for a moment I lost consciousness.' He regains consciousness to hear a tremendous sound that shakes the whole house and nearly moves it off its foundation, breaks the glass in the windows and damages his barn considerably. The earth trembles and then the sky splits apart and a hot wind, as from a cannon, blows past the houses.

Another trader, P.P. Kosolopov, who is walking outside his house, feels his ears burning. He covers them with his hands and runs into his house. Inside the house, earth starts falling from the ceiling and the door of his large stove blows out. The window panes break and he hears thunder disappearing to the north. When it is quieter he goes into the yard but sees nothing else.

Several kilometres north of Vanavara, the tents of dozens of nomads and herdsmen, including the occupants, are blown up into the air by the shock waves that follow the explosion. They all suffer slight bruises when they fall back to the ground. An elderly man hits a tree and breaks his arm. Another elderly man dies of fright. Hundreds of reindeer belonging to four separate herds are killed as the pines and cedars around them blaze. Dense smoke envelops the forest.

Fishermen repairing their rafts along the banks of the Stony Tunguska River are thrown into the air. Their horses stumble and fall to the ground as the shock waves after the explosion pulse through the rocks.

A farmer ploughing his hillside land about 200 kilometres south of the explosion site hears sudden bangs, as if from gunfire. His horse falls on its knees. The fir forest around him is bent over by the wind. He seizes hold of his plough with both hands so that it is not carried away. The wind is so strong that it blows away most of the soil from the surface of the ground, and then drives a wall of water up the nearby river. A flame shoots up above the forest in the north.

About 600 kilometres to the southwest, the Trans-Siberian Express jars and shakes wildly on its tracks, built only three years earlier. Passengers are frightened by the loud bursts of noise. The startled driver sees the tracks ahead rippling. He brings the train to a screeching halt. Sounds of distant thunder follow.

Villagers in Znamenskoye, 700 kilometres from the explosion site, see bright lights in the sky. After the passage of the fireball, villagers in Achayevskoye, 1,200 kilometres from the site, hear loud explosions, like gunfire, which continue for several minutes.

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