Burning wells were a phenomenon known in the area around Wigan on the Lancashire CoalfieldThe Lancashire and Cheshire Coalfield in North West England was one of the most important British coalfields. Its coal seams were formed from the vegetation of tropical swampy forests in the Carboniferous period more than 300 million years ago. from at least the 17th century.  In one such well or spring, close to a coal pit about a mile and a half (2.4 km) from Wigan, the cold water in the well appeared to boil.[1] When a flame was applied in the well it burned with a flame like brandy does, and the heat from the flame was sufficient to boil eggs. Water removed from the well did not have the same property.[2]

The phenomenon was explained scientifically to the Royal Society in 1667 by Thomas Shirley. A “blower” of firedampDamps is a collective name given to all gases other than air found in coal mines in Great Britain. The chief pollutants are carbon dioxide and methane, known as blackdamp and firedamp respectively. from underground coal seams was escaping through a fissure and bubbling through water at the surface.[2] Firedamp escaped to the surface in many places in the neighbourhood of Wigan and locals amused and mystified visitors by stopping up the escaping gas with turves and then releasing and igniting the gas which burned with a blue flame and filling the hole with water while the flame continued to burn.[2]