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Helltown USA
Centralia Coal Mine Fire

Since the summer of 1962, a fire, fueled by rich anthracite coal deposits, has been burning beneath the mining town of Centralia, Pennsylvania.


Centralia Coal Mine Fire

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.”

Centralia Coal Mine Fire

Centralia Coal Mine Fire

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.

Centralia Coal Mine Fire

Centralia Coal Mine Fire

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.

Centralia Coal Mine Fire

Centralia Coal Mine Fire

Centralia Coal Mine Fire

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

Petroleum Sublime
  • Anonymous
  • January 18, 2006 at 10:37:00 PM CST
  • Do older posts lose their comment function? I wanted to add this (via Space and Culture) there, but cannot. Serendipity dictates that the Jardinator put in an appearance here, so thanks for the fortuitous opportunity.

  • Alexander Trevi
  • January 18, 2006 at 11:15:00 PM CST
  • Awesome images. Riotous! Thanks for the pointer, e-tat.

    As far as I know, all posts are always open for commenting. None should be locked of this function. Hope so.

  • pauldwaite
  • January 24, 2006 at 11:10:00 AM CST
  • Bill Bryson did some neat writing about Centralia in one of his books. I can't remember which one, though.

  • Anonymous
  • January 24, 2006 at 11:30:00 AM CST
  • These are excellent photos. I grew up not far from Centralia and we used to drive through before the sink holes became too large. It does not smell pretty.

  • Anonymous
  • January 24, 2006 at 11:53:00 AM CST
  • Bill Bryson's book is "A Walk in the Woods."

  • Anonymous
  • January 24, 2006 at 11:05:00 PM CST
  • Wow. Came upon this by way of another blog and I just had to share it with my readers. Really, great photos and information.

  • Geoff Manaugh
  • March 22, 2006 at 10:24:00 AM CST
  • Alex - I might have misheard this, of course, but I'm under the impression that the new movie Silent Hill has something to do with a fire burning underneath a town for years and years and years - only it turns out that, yep, it's the fires of Hell, and the town looks to be full of these sort of amorphic, mouthless, mutant white worm-people.

    But I instantly thought of Centralia.

    Which sounds like a pharmaceutical.

  • Anonymous
  • September 4, 2006 at 1:38:00 AM CDT
  • im in the middle of the movie right where she meets pyramid head, but ya this sounds alot like silent hill!... umm these fires under ground are creepy. did anyone die in this one? are the fires under there infernoing? or just simmering (lol). Ya i have a disturbing fear/intrest in fires and this stuff. Sometimes i think im a pyro. but my main question is do you think this sort of thing is dangrous? because my parents live in a mining town, dawson creek, my cousin actually works on an oil rig. But there are a couple coal mines, with machines of coarse but they do go down there. lol kinda stupid.. not many mines though now.

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