In 1995, two friends, my girlfriend at the time, and I moved into a huge house in a nice neighborhood near Fort Lee, Virginia. Because we were young and dumb, the 5 bedroom, 2 and one half bath mini-mansion quickly fell into a state of disrepair, as most party houses do, but no party damage could rival that caused by an invasion of bees and my attempt to exterminate them.
One day in the late spring, I arrived at home and noticed, as I waited for the garage door to finish raising, that there were an awful lot of bees swarming around the entrance. As the days progressed, the swarm grew.
Now, I hate bees. In fact, I don’t like any stinging insects. These invaders needed to go.
The next day, I bought several cans of Raid spray and, upon my arrival at home, sprayed the walls, roof, porch, ground, and bushes in an attempt to dissuade the pests from hanging around my garage. The next day, it was apparent that it didn’t work. They were back in full force, completely unimpressed with my attempts to evict them.
I decided to perform some reconnaissance. I went out that evening, when bees sleep, and looked for a nest. That was when I saw the hole that they had been flying in and out of… and it was huge. It was roughly the diameter of a golf ball, and fairly deep looking. I sprayed the hole down with the last of the Raid, and went in to call my father, because if anyone would know how to deal with this problem, my father would.
Just a short while on the phone with dad gave me the hope I needed. According to him, all I needed was to pour gas into their nest at night, and my problem would be solved.
So I went to the local gas station and purchased a second five gallon gas can full of gas to go with my mostly full five gallon can at home. I figured, whatever was left over after I filled the hole could be used in my car or lawn mower. With my gas ready, I dressed for the occasion.
I know I mentioned that I hate bees, but I don’t think I conveyed the depths to which I abhor these stinging little beasties. I hate bees! Not wanting to get stung, I went a bit overboard. An outer layer that included a flannel shirt, oversized jeans, and a pair of combat boots concealed layer two: a hooded sweatshirt, sweatpants, and thick wool socks. I hid my hands in heavy winter gloves, and covered my head and face with a hood, a scarf, and a pair of motorcycle goggles. There wasn’t a bit of unprotected flesh exposed.
This, in all likelihood, saved my life.
At midnight, the hour when I felt the bees would be most asleep and least likely to stir, I proceeded with my plan. I went outside with my 8 or so gallons of gas and box of strike-anywhere matches and began the process of exterminating the bugs. I started to pour gas into the hole.
Do you know the sound that a drain makes when you pour water straight down the center of it? That is the noise the hole made as the gas disappeared into its maw. I kept pouring and pouring, waiting for the hole to fill so I could stop… and the hole just wouldn’t fill. I started on the second gas can when the first was empty, and unloaded the bulk of that into the hole before I gave up. My best estimate is that was about 6 or 7 gallons of gasoline in the hole when I finished.
Now it was time for the lighting ceremony. I took a strike anywhere match, lit it, and threw it at the hole, making sure to stand plenty far enough away to be out of harm’s way.
The match went out.
I lit another and, edging closer, threw it at the hole.
The match went out.
Edging closer still, I threw another lit match at the hole.
The match went out.
Being the problem solver that I am, I created a solution. I rolled up a newspaper, lit it on fire, and stuffed it into the hole.
Well, near the hole at least.
Several problems conspired to make this situation dangerous. First, the amount of time I spent dicking around with the matches allowed plenty of gas vapor to accumulate near the hole. Second, gas vapor—as it turns out—is VERY combustible. Third, my newspaper starter was sufficiently short so as to force my arm to be very near the entrance to the hole. Finally, there was a LOT of gas in that hole.
Well, in roughly the amount of time it took for me to think, “Oh shit, this was a bad idea!” my plan went horribly awry. The flaming paper, as it became proximate to the hole, ignited the vapor surrounding the hole. The process of sudden, rapid vapor ignition could best be described as a Big Fucking ExplosionTM. The explosion shook the ground, the concrete slab that was my front porch split, the foundation of the house cracked, and a plume of flame shot out of every place in my lawn where the system of tunnels I had filled with gas met the surface. Unfortunately one of those outlets was immediately beneath a bush in my yard; so my bush lit on fire. A river of fire, originating farther down my lawn, flowed its way into the road where it puddled.
Oh, and my shirt was set aflame. It was chaos.
So there I am, running around with my clothing on fire, a bush burning like something out of a Bible story, a river of fire blazing like a sign of the apocalypse, when my neighbors come out to watch the show. Did anyone help? Not a chance; they just came to watch the show. Even my roommates were just observing dispassionately out the window.
I ultimately managed to put myself out (Stop, Drop, and Roll people… Stop, Drop, and Roll), and after a fairly short time, the gas was all consumed and the various fires went out, leaving charred grass, a burnt husk of a bush, and a complete halt to the bee problem.
The next day, I called my father back to tell him how poorly his plan went. A few words into the story, he said the words that I keep with me to this day.
“I didn’t say to light the gas on fire,” he said.
And you know what? He didn’t.