Cold Fire

In January 1964 the World Health Organization announces the quarantine of a small village outside of Trondheim due to an outbreak of an unidentified hemorrhagic fever. Within the month the village and its environs was under NATO control. For weeks no further reports were made. The news media could only guess – they had no access.

It would not come out until March that 177 villagers, 17 aid workers and 16 NATO engineers had dead along with all flora and fauna within nearly a kilometer’s radius of the village center, and that all of the dead had completely dissolved. At some point the NATO research detachment realized that whatever was killing everyone was in fact attacking all complex biomass. The engineers lost their lives carving out a firebreak, a gap in the vegetation to prevent whatever was causing the horrific deaths from destroying everything. Once no more cases of illness were found, months were spent increasing the radius of that no man’s land. All plant life was cut and burned, then the soil excavated down to the bedrock in all directions, into which was poured several feet of concrete. After Point Zero, as it was later named, was declared safe the area inside the concrete barriers was planted full of yellow roses (one of which appears on the flag of the city of Trondheim) as a memorial.

The origin of the illness, whatever it had been, was not known. No pathogens could be found in the air or water. The residue left behind by the dead was a uniform gray-white powder, all organic tissue brown down, even the DNA. One pathologist remarked to Time magazine that “it was like what fire would have done, but cold” and that week’s issue read, “What Was the Cold Fire?” It being the height of the Cold War, the name stuck – speculation raged for months but all major powers denied any knowledge of what happened that winter. That year’s Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in Stockholm with the others instead of its traditional site in Oslo due to international fears, but even that died down.



The insurance company’s best guess was that the deaths of the 23 patients in the east wing of Arrowdale Convalescent Home in Falls River, MA on the night of February 8, 1979 were from carbon monoxide poisoning. Reports differ, however, on whether any carbon monoxide was detected. The east wing was dedicated to patients in persistent vegetative states or long-term comas. They varied in age from 29 to 70. The shift nurse that night, Lucius Tanner, reported to authorities that earlier that night he had heard the patients speaking in unison, repeating a string of numbers several times before they all simultaneously passed. The hospital administrator said that Mr. Tanner had grown fond of his charges and had suffered a stress-related breakdown at their sudden loss. He was treated for PTSD and later successfully sued his former employer for damages. A police report obtained by the Institute in 2011 gave the numbers purportedly spoken by the patients; they corresponded to the latitude and longitude of Point Zero.


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