This is a story without judgment or condemnation. We have all been that person at one time or another, terrified by nature’s instinct to lash out at humans and reconquer its land. Sometimes we respond with arms. This time, the weapon of choice just happened to be a blowtorch.
The man’s identity is not known. But he was housesitting for his parents in Fresno, Calif., on Tuesday when the black widows came.
There were at least “a couple” of them, ABC 30 reported.
It is not known whether the man was a budding arachnologist or just happened to know how to identify black widows — or specifically, the exclusively dangerous females that bear the scarlet hourglass marking, according to researchers.
Maybe he did not know any of that. Maybe the spiders were not black widows at all. But just that possibility, apparently, was enough propel him into action.
The man grabbed a propane torch, pointed in the general direction of the spiders and went to work, he later told authorities.
Flames licked and crawled along the base of the house before carving into the interior wall, Fresno Fire Department deputy fire marshal Lee Wilding told ABC News. The flames then traveled upward, triggering a larger blaze on the second floor and in the attic, he said.
Firefighters, ultimately numbering more than two dozen, sped to the scene in response to a 911 call. The damage could be as much as $10,000, the Los Angeles Times reported. The man is 23, the paper said.
“We don’t ever recommend using some type of heating device like that to get rid of any vermin or spiders,” Fire Battalion Chief Tony Escobedo told ABC at the scene.
Escobedo, employing great understatement, added: “This probably was a bad idea.”
That sentiment was echoed by a department firefighter union.
“Please don’t use a blowtorch to kill spiders,” the local 753 wrote Wednesday on Twitter.
The Fresno Fire Department did not respond to a request for comment but told local media outlets that no one was injured.
It is not clear whether the man will be charged. The Fresno Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.
Black-widow bites can be dangerous, causing vomiting, severe pain and other issues, according to research published by Permanente Journal.
About 2,500 bites are reported to poison control authorities each year in the United States, but researchers said the actual number is almost certainly higher. Deaths are very rare, with only three worldwide reported in medical literature, the researchers found.
But who really stops to consult scientific journals to properly contextualize the nature of a threat like a black widow? The man acted, although his parents are probably not pleased, and no one could blame the firefighters if they were frustrated after learning what triggered the blaze.
And yet, there are the spiders. They have held dominion for hundreds of millions of years before humanoid species began to grasp stone tools for the first time in eastern Africa, one day destined to wield fire in a clumsy twist of five digits.
We don’t know what happened to these particular Fresno spiders. They may be dead. They may have survived. There may have been other spiders.
But we do know that the man fled outside, leaving the house empty. And perhaps, for a moment, the spiders reclaimed their kingdom.