Since the summer of 1962, a fire, fueled by rich anthracite coal deposits, has been burning beneath the mining town of Centralia, Pennsylvania.
From Offroaders: “The fire was started in a garbage dump over an open coal seam in May of 1962. The fire was reported and seemed to be quenched at the time, but actually continued underground. There are many additional versions of the original cause but the garbage pit and the date are probably right. First bid to extinguish the fire was $175.”
“By 1983, the government said the fire was advancing on three or four fronts. Proposed trenching of the area might cost as much as $660 million with no guarantee of success. One of the larger trenches would have bisected the town roughly from east to west. A government buy-out was proposed instead of the trenching and there was a referendum held. The homeowners voted to accept the buy-out 345 to 200. Only those whose names were on the deeds could vote. From 1962 to 1984, $7 million had been spent. In November of 1983, $42 million was voted for the buy-out.”
“By 1991, this area had been increased by about three-quarters. Worst case scenario would be about 3700 acres and [burn out in] a hundred years.”
Perhaps not since the entire Appalachia region hovered above a fault line hundreds of millions of years ago has the ground below smoldered, a glowing ember of iridescent orange, while fissures and fumeroles spewing poisonous gases dotted the landscape above.
You feel the heat in your feet. The smell of sulfur lingers in the air. The town, appropriately enough, resembles a “post-nuclear war wasteland.” Or yes, Helltown USA — an important itinerary on the municipalis non grata travel circuit — a stopover on the way to Chernobyl and the flooded villages upstream from the Three Gorges Dam.
If it weren't for the signs warning us of the coal mine fire, I'd probably guess we're witnessing the birth pangs of a new ocean.
If you cannot make it to Centralia, there are, apparently, other coal mine fires in Pennsylvania and all over the world, particularly northern China, eternally coursing their way through the serpentine subterranean tunnels and mineral veins.
The Centralia Project
Unseen Danger: A Tragedy of People, Government, and the Centralia Mine Fire
Centralia Mine Fire @ Roadside America
Photos of Mine Fires
Coal fires by Anupta Prakash