In Pennsylvania, a fire has been burning underground since May 1962. This coal-seam fire, known as the Centralia mine fire, has defied all attempts to extinguish it and continues to smolder to this day.
The origins of the Centralia mine fire
The exact cause and start date of the Centralia mine fire remains a matter of debate. Some suggest that it was ignited deliberately on May 27, 1962. That’s when the town council set a fire to clean up the landfill in an abandoned strip mine. However, others argue that the fire had already been burning before that fateful day. They think it may have originated from the Bast Colliery coal fire of 1932.
Regardless of its precise origin, the fire quickly spread into the labyrinth of abandoned coal mines beneath Centralia. This helped perpetuate its unstoppable grip on the town.
The extent of the destruction
The Centralia mine fire is estimated to have the potential to burn for more than 250 years. It stretches over an area of 3,700 acres and reaches depths of up to 300 feet. This is a result of the abundance of coal and network of underground tunnels providing a fuel source.
Efforts to extinguish the fire have been futile, with multiple excavation projects failing to snuff out the flames.
The impact of the Centralia mine fire on the town and its residents has been catastrophic. Over time, the hazardous levels of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and low oxygen levels caused health concerns, leading to the evacuation and relocation of most residents.
By 2017, the population dwindled to just five residents. That’s a stark contrast to the 1,500 inhabitants at the time the fire began. Abandoned buildings, crumbling infrastructure, and eerie streets shrouded in smoke have transformed Centralia into an unlikely tourist attraction.
The ongoing legacy of the fire
As the fire persisted, legal battles and controversies emerged. In 1992, Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey invoked eminent domain, condemning all the buildings in Centralia. The government offered the residents buyouts, and most accepted, leaving only a handful determined to remain in their homes.
Despite appeals, the remaining residents were eventually ordered to leave. However, the town reached an agreement in 2013 to allow some holdouts live out their lives before the properties would be taken through eminent domain.