In the Mountains of Vrancea, approximately 37 kilometres from Focsani, on the Milcov River course, in an area including localities with resonant names (Mera, Reghiu, Tulnici), but unpopulated, a few tens of thousands Romanian and foreign tourists go to the centre of Andreiasu de Jos Commune, where, right under the lower limit of a very beautiful fir tree forest, a very rare natural phenomenon can be seen – the living fires.
The geological structure of the Casin-Bisoca area, with very many shifts and made up of sedimentary rocks (gritstones, clay, ash tuff) of the Miocene Epoch, correlated with the lack of some deep underground waters, favours the surfacing of some dry gas emanations accumulated in the underground that catch fire, usually from the sun beams. When it rains they are put out, with water bubbles being visible in the place where the burning gas was coming out.
There is not a stable number of the places where the hydrocarbon comes out of the earth, as they shift along with the appearance of new orifices or with the coverage of others on an area that specialists approximated at 40 hectares. The intensity, duration and the height of the flames also vary on a temporal basis (daily, weekly, seasonally). According to the extended observations of the locals the flames height reaches from a few centimetres to almost half a metre. During earthquakes, the fire beams exceed two metres in height. The highest flames burn in some micro formations with alveolar shape. The gas emanation flow is influenced by precipitations and the variation at the level of the underground water. Recent monitoring carried out by specialists at six such alveolar orifices point to the fact that they were emanating approximately 24 tonnes of methane or marsh gas per year. For the entire area a 50 tonne annual output is estimated. Together with this gas smaller quantities of carbon dioxide, nitrogen or helium also emerge to the surface.
The area where the flammable natural gas catches fire can be easily visited due to the access infrastructure, being delimited by a cement wall, and the access is made on a set of stairs. Climbing the approximately one hundred steps, a plateau is reached, where, through the shifts of the earth shell, the natural gas burns with multi-coloured flames. Near the living fire there is a watch tower allowing tourists to take shelter from sun or rain or simply to admire the landscape.
Tourists who come to Andreiasu can enjoy a real spectacle of nature, especially during the night, when the yellow, reddish or even blue flames give a mystical touch to the place. Moreover, they can find out various legends, tales or traditions related to the living fire from the locals, who are known for their hospitality. For instance, the place has a powerful religious symbol, being regarded as a protector of animals. Locals also say that the moment when the flames exceed two metres in height they forecast an earthquake.
The truth is that Andreiasu de Jos is an area with a special tourist potential, those coming here having the opportunity to enjoy the fresh air, charming landscapes and, of course, flames surfacing the earth. The local authorities say they are constantly trying to draw more tourists to the area through new facilities, but also through organising each year a folk traditional festival, called ‘The Living Fire,’ meant to highlight this wonder of nature, as well as the landscapes or the hospitality of the people in the area.
Near the living fire of Andreiasu de Jos there are three lakes – Mocearu, Meledic and Limpede. Also, the muddy volcanoes and the caves in the area can be visited.
The accommodation facilities provide offers affordable for everyone, from a tent on the Milcov River bank, to some local’s house or one of the guesthouses near the village, in Mera or Odobesti. Besides the nature trails in the geological reserve or on Milcov River Valley, tourists can organise off-road and hunting competitions, visits to the wine cellars where they can taste the best wines, accompanied by traditional foods of the area.
Declared natural reserve in 1967, by a Decree of the County People’s Council and then through Law No 5/200 on the setup of the national territory, the living fire tourist landmark is not the only protected area of Vrancea, other such 20 areas having acquired the same statute over the past 20 years.