“A Brief History of Exploding Whales”

Whales explode due to natural and man-made causes:

Sometimes beached whales erupt on their own, but sometimes humans blow them up first—as was the case in Florence, Oregon, in 1970. The town of Florence may have been the first to confront the dilemma that faces Trout River today.

Oregon officials thought their whale was too big to cut up or burn; they ended up hiring a highway engineer named Paul Thornton, from the state’s transportation department, to devise a plan. Thornton decided on using dynamite to blast the whale to bits. He figured that the blown-up pieces of blubber would scatter into the sea and whatever remained would be scavenged by birds and crabs…

In an obituary for Thornton, who died in October 2013, Elizabeth Chuck of NBC News describes what happened that day:

Bystanders were moved back a quarter of a mile before the blast, but were forced to flee as blubber and huge chunks of whale came raining down on them. Parked cars even further from the scene got smashed by pieces of dead whale. No one was hurt, but the small pieces of whale remains were flecked onto anyone in the area.

Though I wouldn’t have called it such at the time, this is the first “viral video” I remember discovering. And it would be years before it made it to YouTube. I remember in high school stumbling onto a fairly simple HTML page that had a video of this scene in Oregon. The news report was one of the strangest I had ever seen: people gathering to watch and then running as quickly as possible away from an exploding whale. I showed it to a number of people that had never seen anything like it. It isn’t exactly what viral videos are today – which tend to be more pop culture, catchy – but it was certainly unique and something quite foreign to most Midwesterners.

Just how much damage can an exploding McMansion cause?

Investigators are looking into what caused the massive explosion of a large Long Grove home:

The scene on the Trenton Court cul-de-sac and surrounding neighborhood in Long Grove after an explosion Friday night obliterated a home was something Jeff Steingart has not experienced in 32 years of firefighting…

The force of the blast, which damaged an estimated 50 homes within a quarter mile and was heard and felt several miles away, could make finding the specific cause difficult.

“She didn’t smell it. She was in her master bathroom brushing her teeth, heard a pop and saw a fire outside her bathroom window,” he said. The woman called 911 and was walking across the street to a neighbor’s house when the explosion occurred…

About a half dozen nearby homes were severely damaged, he added, and the overall damage likely is “in the millions” of dollars. About six homes are uninhabitable.

This was quite the explosion – other reports suggested people were calling 911 from miles around. I wonder if the size of the explosion is directly related to the size of the house. In other words, a larger home has more space for a gas leak to build up so that when something sets off the explosion, there is a lot more gas and home to blow up. Even in a neighborhood with sizable yards (a Zillow listing for a recently-sold home on the same short street says the home has 0.77 acre lot), this can lead to lots of damage.

One odd thought: given the odor of natural gas, couldn’t someone design some sort of ventilation system that would detect the smell, automatically vent the home, and alert the authorities? We have smoke and radon detectors so why not natural gas? Perhaps it would be easier to build this into passive homes where the air has to be ventilated. How much cost could this really add to a million-dollar home?