Folks, don’t try this at home
A Maryland couple was so tired of the relentless crawl of snakes in their basement that they tried to smoke them out.
Snakes have a great sense of smell, experts say, and the odour of smoke, in theory, could prompt them to slither off.
But the coal used in the basement was placed too close to flammable items, and the ensuing fire burned most of the 10,000-square-foot house — to the tune of $1 million.
The homeowners had bought the house just a year ago for $1.8 million. Maryland County Fire and Rescue spokesman Pete Piringer said snakes had been an ongoing issue for this owner as well as a previous tenant. The infestation was such that at least one month ago the tenant tried the same smoke-out technique, Piringer said. The tenant then moved out, and the homeowner was in the process of moving back in when he tried the smoke eradication.
The fire started in the basement but quickly spread through each floor, engulfing the multi-storey home. The owners had set the coal alight at 8 p.m., monitored it, and left the house. A neighbour in the area of widespread lots, who saw flames in the distance, called 911 and 75 firefighters were on scene by 10 p.m. but it took until morning to call the fire completely out. No humans were hurt.
But the owners weren’t as careless as all that. They started the fires in smoke-emitting metal containers, fire officials said.
Montgomery County fire investigators deemed the incident an accident as there was no evidence, or intention, of starting the fire. The issue has been turned over to the homeowner’s insurance company.
Piringer said the reptiles were described to fire investigators as “black snakes,” and there’d been “a lot of them” in the house. Local wildlife biologist Dan Rauch believes they were either garter snakes or Eastern ratsnakes.
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Wildlife experts said snakes don’t go into hibernation like warm-blooded animals do, but instead enter a state of “brumation” — basically a less-knocked-out form of hibernation for the cold-blooded.
Snakes slow down, become less active and “get together and use their body heat to survive the winter,” Rauch said.
Two appealing spots for them to carry this out: home foundations and basements, accessed by slithering through holes and crevices.
“The more that are in there, the more body-heat they share,” Rauch said. “They just ride out the cold season and come back out in spring.”
The remains of only one snake — its skin — were found in the ashes. One snake was found alive.
“He came out of the foundation,” Piringer said.
Firefighters apprehended that snake and released it into nearby woods. The rest of the snakes were either destroyed, hidden by the debris or had slithered away.
J.D. Kleopfer, Virginia’s state herpetologist, said that if snakes “get a whiff of smoke they’ll try to go underground or try to escape, get away or leave the area,” he said. But he cautioned that it’s only temporary.
“They’ll come back,” he said.
— with additional reporting by The Washington Post