Centralia Mine Fire (40 pics)
f I said I can show you a town that is continually burning, you would think I was crazy. However, that has been the case of Centralia, Pennsylvania, which is located in the Anthracite-rich mountains of Columbia County. Although the town itself is not burning, what is located under it is burning: coal.
In early 1962, a decision was made to utilize a strip mine near the Odd Fellows Cemetery to become the borough's new landfill as the old one was reaching capacity. The pit had many holes from previous mining attempts that, according to the Department of Mines and Minerals Industry, would have to be filled with incombustible material. This was to be done in case a fire broke out, it would not spread to local mines. With the holes sealed, the pit passed inspection and the Commonwealth issued permit WD-443-R.
In July 1962, the Department of Environmental Resources began to monitor the fire by drilling boreholes to check the extent and temperature. Some believe that these provided the fire an easy source of oxygen.
On May 22, 1969, the first three families were moved from Centralia, just as action was being taken to control the blaze. A trench was dug near the cemetery to stop the spread, but was only performed in one shift per day and halted for the Memorial Day holiday. If the crews would have worked in three shifts and did not stop, the fire could have been quenched as Tony Gaughan mentioned in the book "Slow Burn." He added that the project was only $50,000 from completion.
The town was brought to the national spotlight when on February 14, 1981, the ground under which Todd Domboski was playing on in his grandmother's backyard opened. The hole was about four feet in diameter and approximately 150 feet deep. He held onto exposed tree roots and was pulled out by his cousin. Mine subsidence was just one of the dangers facing the residents, along with health and respiratory problems incurred due to the noxious gases emanating from the ground.
By 1983 an ambitious plan was proposed to buy all of the residences out and dig a 500-foot-deep trench around the town to stop the fire from spreading and endangering the Borough of Ashland less than two miles away. Many former and current residents of Centralia believed that this was a ploy by the federal government to strip-mine the town to get to the rich deposits of coal below. However, the $660 million price-tag and no guarantee that this would stop the fire made the government balk, and so the fire is left to burn itself out. The citizens voted in favor of a federal government buy-out 345 to 200. In November 1983, $42 million was allocated to purchase homes of those who wanted to leave, which was a stark contrast from the $7 million spent from 1962 to 1984 to fight the fire.
In 1991, twenty-six homes along PA 61 west of Centralia were purchased, drawing a close to the chapter of Centralia. A town which had a population of 1,100 at its height dwindled to 46 with only a few structures left standing, all of which are owned by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. However, the residents still have to pay property taxes.