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Johnny Cash accidentally started a wildfire that destroyed over 500 acres and killed 49 endangered condors

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

“I fell into a burning ring of fire
I went down, down, down
And the flames went higher
And it burns, burns, burns
The ring of fire
The ring of fire”

If you are unfamiliar with the lines above, then just stop reading for a second. Type Johnny Cash on YouTube and press enter. The song “Ring of Fire” would certainly be among the first that’ll pop up. Do yourself a favor and listen to it. What you hear is a classic, a piece of art that can not be disputed.  This is a song performed by one of the greats, the Man in Black himself.

While there is still a debate about who actually wrote the lyrics, one thing is for sure–this is a song about falling in love and desire. However, one particular event in Cash’s life can give this song a whole new meaning.

Like many other artists and musicians, Johnny Cash’s life was nothing short of spectacular, to put it mildly. We are talking here about a man who lived a life so turbulent, filled with so many ups and downs, that an ordinary person would need a hundred lives to even catch up.

Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash is a true definition of a rebel, which became apparent since the earliest days of his career. From his military service and his honorable discharge to being incarcerated seven times, making troubles in almost every hotel while touring with his band, performing in prisons, even surviving an ostrich attack, you name it, he has done it. And for much of the time, he was hooked on booze and barbiturates. Despite all of this, his dedication and passion for his music remained constant.

The Tennessee Three with Cash in 1963.
The Tennessee Three with Cash in 1963.

Nonetheless, his worsening drug addiction was bound to take its toll, which is where we come back to “Ring of Fire” and how Cash succeeded in turning the meaning of this iconic love song into something quite literal. Because in June 1965, the Man in Black was personally responsible for igniting a truly devastating “ring of fire.”

Johnny Cash quotes

The event took place in Los Padres National Forest in California, where Johnny Cash and his nephew, Damon Fielder, went fishing. As the story goes, while staying in his camper for the night, Cash decided to make a fire in order to keep himself warm. But a strange course of events led the fire to go rogue on him.

It spread like, well like a wildfire, and in no time it had destroyed over 500 acres of land. It burned, burned, burned, and by the time the fire was extinguished, the damage was beyond repair. Almost everything in the surrounding area was turned into ash, including 49 endangered condors that were killed in the blaze. This is how the official version goes, but according to Johnny Cash, this couldn’t be less accurate.

Cash in 1969.
Cash in 1969.

While giving testimony under sworn oath, Cash claimed that the fire was caused by a malfunctioning exhaust system on his camper. “I didn’t do it, my truck did, and it’s dead, so you can’t question it,” he told the judge.

It’s up to you which version to believe. The court still found him guilty. Cash ended up paying a fine of $82,000.

Related story from us: The love of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash: “It is like I’m in a ring of fire”

Whatever happened, happened. The legend that is The Man in Black will continue to carry on through the years and his songs will always be there, to make us feel alive every time we hear them. Especially in the case of “Ring of Fire,” a song performed by a man who loved unconditionally and lived always on his own terms.

Goran Blazeski

Goran Blazeski is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News