50 years later, underground coal seam fire still burning in Centralia, Pa

May 26, 2012CENTRALIA, Pa. – It’s an anniversary the few remaining souls who live here won’t be celebrating. Fifty years ago on Sunday, a fire at the town dump ignited an exposed coal seam and still burns today. It set off a chain of events that eventually led to the demolition of nearly every building in Centralia — a whole community of 1,400 simply gone. All these decades later, the Centralia fire maintains its grip on the popular imagination, drawing visitors from around the world who come to gawk at twisted, buckled Route 61, at the sulfurous steam rising intermittently from ground that’s warm to the touch, at the empty, lonely streets where nature has reclaimed what coal-industry money once built. It’s a macabre story that has long provided fodder for books, movies and plays — the latest one debuting in March at a theater in New York. Yet to the handful of residents who still occupy Centralia, who keep their houses tidy and their lawns mowed, this borough in the mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania is no sideshow attraction. It’s home, and they’d like to keep it that way. “That’s all anybody wanted from day one,” said Tom Hynoski, who’s among the plaintiffs in a federal civil rights lawsuit aimed at blocking the state of Pennsylvania from evicting them. Centralia was already a coal-mining town in decline when the fire department set the town’s landfill ablaze on May 27, 1962, in an ill-fated attempt to tidy up for Memorial Day. The fire wound up igniting the coal outcropping and, over the years, spread to the vast network of mines beneath homes and businesses, threatening residents with poisonous gases and dangerous sinkholes. After a contentious battle over the future of the town, the side that wanted to evacuate won out. By the end of the 1980s, more than 1,000 people had moved and 500 structures were demolished under a $42 million federal relocation program. But some holdouts refused to go — even after their houses were seized through eminent domain in the early 1990s. They said the fire posed little danger to their part of town, accused government officials and mining companies of a plot to grab the rights to billions of dollars’ worth of anthracite coal, and vowed to stay put.
After years of letting them be, state officials decided a few years ago to take possession of the homes. The state Department of Community and Economic Development said Friday it’s in negotiations with one of the five remaining homeowners; the others are continuing to resist, pleading their case in federal court. Residents say the state has better things to spend its money on. A handwritten sign along the road blasts Gov. Tom Corbett, the latest chief executive to inherit a mess that goes back decades. “You and your staff are making budget cuts everywhere,” the sign says. “How can you allow [the state] to waste money trying to force these residents out of their homes? These people want to pay their taxes and be left alone and live where they choose!” Whether it’s safe to live there is subject to debate. Tim Altares, a geologist with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, said that while temperatures in monitoring boreholes are down — possibly indicating the fire has followed the coal seam deeper underground — the blaze still poses a threat because it has the potential to open up new paths for deadly gases to reach the remaining homes. “It’s very difficult to quantify the threat, but the major threat would be infiltration of the fire gases into the confined space of a residential living area. That was true from the very beginning and will remain true even after the fire moves out of the area,” Mr. Alteres said. –Post Gazette
This entry was posted in Civilizations unraveling, Dark Ages, Earth Changes, Earth Watch, Environmental Threat, High-risk potential hazard zone, Human behavioral change after disaster. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to 50 years later, underground coal seam fire still burning in Centralia, Pa

  1. James says:

    This is a very famous incident. I had no clue it was the 50th anniversary. I once heard someone say it will probably burn for about 1000 years before extinguishing. If that is the case which I believe it is, it is clearly a hoax that we are running out of what they call fossil fuels.


  2. Bobi says:

    Well, the people know the risks so let them stay where they are. It is totally ridiculous to force them out and that is the bottom line. A huge waste of time and money, but them isn’t that what government is all about?


  3. Schuylkill Resident says:

    I live on the other side of the mountain and there have been fire outbreaks in Centralia. The remaining residents need to move and stop being paranoid that locals have hidden agendas.


  4. FL_Lady says:

    If there is true concern for the remaining residents, give them an air-monitoring device and leave them alone. That would be much cheaper and better for everyone.


  5. John says:

    Schuylkill, Are you prepared to leave your home and move from “the other side of the mountain” when they determine that the fire is spreading too close to your community, and that it is for your own good? Live is full of risks, these people understand that and are willing to accept the consequences fo living there. We have more important things to be concerned about (one read of the extinction protocol tells you that).


  6. Devin says:

    Fl Lady -there would be too much common sense in that suggestion!
    thanks again Alvin for this wonderful blog!


  7. Pauly says:

    There is a drilling/rigging company out of TX that claims they can extinguish the fire. The idea of forcibly removing the residents that lay claim to the billions of dollars of valuable anthracite(and going higher because China is in PA buying it for metallurgical purposes) seems, no pun intended, that someone has plans for that coal, after the pesky humans are forced off their land.


  8. Granny Bear says:

    China is buying lots of property. Such as the town of Milan, Michigan, very much like a colony.


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