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Originally published July 16, 2014 at 8:07 PM | Page modified July 17, 2014 at 12:59 PM

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An idea that shouldn’t catch fire: Using a blowtorch to kill a spider

In response to a Seattle man who nearly burned down his home this week trying to torch a spider, pest-control experts weigh in on the special brand of hysteria that can come when people try to fight off bugs.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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@Poster He didn't take himself out of the gene pool. Maybe a participation award. MORE
Only sissies would be scared of spiders. But moths, now there's something to use a blowtorch on. MORE
And the Darwin Award goes to? MORE


A Seattle man spots a spider of apparently epic proportions in his rental home. He decides to deal with this most primordial of problems by:

a) Reaching for a shoe;

b) Calling an exterminator;

c) Begging a neighbor for help; or

d) Inexplicably deciding to immolate the eight-legged menace by using a lighter and a can of spray paint as a homemade blowtorch. (After all, the house is a rental.)

Chances are by now you know the answer. The man’s ill-fated effort at extermination not only set a portion of the Arbor Heights home aflame, it also made national news and moved the spokesman for the Seattle Fire Department to warn against copycats:

“There are safer, more effective ways to kill a spider than using fire,” Kyle Moore told The Associated Press. “Fire is not the method to use to kill a spider.”

Even though the unnamed man came within a spider’s leg of burning down the home, he’s hardly alone in his illogical attempt at extermination, say the experts.

“Some people have a phobia that makes their brains stop thinking when they see a spider,” said Elmer Bensinger, CEO of Mathis Exterminating of Seattle.

Bensinger noted that every year or so there are stories in the news of people who blow up their homes with “bug bombs,” a pest-control device that releases a bug-killing mist.

A San Diego family infamously blew up their home in 2003 in an attempt to rid the place of insects with 19 bug bombs. A single bug bomb would have been sufficient to treat the 470-square-foot home.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the bombs were ignited by a pilot light from the water heater. The explosion shook the surrounding homes and catapulted the family’s Christmas decorations onto the street, the newspaper said.

Turns out, that house was also a rental. The damage cost some unlucky owner $150,000 to repair.

The Arbor Heights fire caused an estimated $60,000 in damage, according to Moore.

After the man ignited his laundry room with his makeshift blowtorch, he tried to put water on the flames, but the blaze spread into the attic.

On Wednesday, portions of the house were boarded up with plywood, and a blue tarp covered part of the roof. The owners of the house declined to comment.

As for the spider, Moore said: “I’m pretty sure the spider did not survive this fire.”

Rick Mix, general manager of Willard Pest Control, which has locations throughout the Puget Sound area, said that exterminators often see people driven to hysterics by pests.

“I had a lady call me one time who had a newborn baby,” Mix said. “She was convinced that she had a deadly brown recluse spider in her home. I told her there was no way; we don’t have brown recluse spiders in Washington. But she was terrified it was going to bite her baby.”

Mix said the woman was insistent and drove to his office, baby in tow, so he could judge for himself.

“She was in a state of panic and she showed me the spider and I said, ‘I don’t know what it is but I can tell you it’s not a brown recluse spider,’ ” Mix said.

“So she says, ‘Yes, it is. I’ll show you the bite!’ And she pulled down her pants right there in the office to show me.

“I’m just glad there were other people here to witness that,” Mix said.

Bensinger, of Mathis Exterminating, said that there are a number of better alternatives to homemade blowtorches to kill spiders.

“A good way to get rid of a spider is to use a vacuum,” Bensinger said. “You can use a tissue. Those are probably the easiest ways. If you keep having a problem, glue boards work well to trap spiders. Actually getting rid of spiders is not that difficult. You just need to think it through.”

Erin Heffernan: 206-464-3249 or eheffernan@seattletimes.comInformation from The Associated Press is included in this report.

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