This Town's Been On Fire Since 1962
For almost 60 years, a fire has been burning underneath Centralia, Pennsylvania.
Centralia, a small town in Pennsylvania, has been on fire since 1962.
Yes, the town is literally burning. And it's been burning for 57 years.
How did the fire start?
Centralia was a mining town. In the 1900s, it had some 2,700 residents, most of whom belonged to mining families. Because of this, the town had an abundance of coal mines and tunnels running underneath the city.
Though it's not certain how the fire started, speculation is that it came down to one big problem the town was facing: rubbish.
Centralia had a rubbish problem. People would dump rubbish in the streets, and huge ad-hoc rubbish dumps were forming around the town.
The City Council decided to do a clean-up. The town's memorial day was coming up. In preparation, they wanted to clean up the local landfill. They gathered heaps of rubbish in one spot and, to get rid of it, they set it on fire.
Historians believe that this dump fire sparked an even larger mine fire beneath the town.
How did the fire spread?
The mining tunnels, which had once been a source of pride and identity for the Centralia residents, would prove to be their downfall.
The town had a lot of interconnected mining tunnels running underneath. This made it easy for the fire to spread dramatically, through the tunnels, to far-reaching corners of the town.
The coal mines soon had to close down due to unsafe levels of carbon monoxide.
As the fire raged on, the ground beneath the town grew hotter and hotter. In some places, it had reached over 480 degrees Celsius. It became normal for smoke to seep out of the ground. Suddenly, streets started to collapse from the heat.
Even worse were the sinkholes. Residents — both people and animals — would suddenly find themselves above an inconspicuous sinkhole. As they stepped on it, it would fall through and swallow them into the ground, closer to the fire.
One reporter, in the 1980s, explained that even the dead can't rest in peace .
Why haven't they put the fire out?
Putting the fire out is now seen as an impossible dream.
The numerous attempts, and millions of dollars, spent on the fire failed to put it out. There are so many coal mines and tunnels that any of them could be fuelling the fire. It was deemed to be unjustifiably risky and expensive to try to find out which ones were fuelling the fire and to try to put it out.
The population dropped to a grand total of… 7
The fire continued to rage, and life in Centralia was becoming increasingly dangerous.
In 1981, Congress tried to buy out the residents. Former residents reported being offered twice the value of their home to leave Centralia.
In 1984, several children had been swallowed into sinkholes, sustaining severe burns. As well as that, the underground tanks at a local petrol station almost exploded. When it was clear that the risks were intensifying, the US government ordered a complete evacuation of the town.
In 1992, with many residents still remaining, Centralia took further action to evacuate the town. The US government 'condemned' most of Centralia's buildings, declaring them unfit to live in.
In 2002, they eliminated the ZIP code.
7 residents fought the court order, and were allowed to remain. However, they're not allowed to pass their homes down to relatives or to sell them, so the town will soon be completely empty. Once they're gone, their homes will go to the public domain.
Life for the 7 residents of the burning town
Life in a burning town is… difficult, to say the least. Aside from the health risks caused by the smoke and the ongoing fire, the residents lack basic amenities.
They don't have a ZIP code, which means they can't receive any postage. Instead, they have their post delivered to relatives in nearby towns. They also don't have law enforcement services. Although the police do sometimes drive through to check for trespassers and dumpers, they're not readily available.
Centralia has become very popular with tourists. They often drive up on Halloween to take in the creepy atmosphere. Surrounded by abandoned houses, broken streets, and smoke seeping from the roads, it's the perfect Halloween set up for the more daring.
However, business permits can't be issued in the town, which stops the residents from benefiting from the tourism. Neighbouring towns have opened souvenir shops tied to Centralia, and benefit from the curious visitors.
Graffiti fills the streets. One highway in particular has become known as the Graffiti Highway. The highway leads in and out of the city, and was declared unfit by the government, and shut down. Now, it's been covered in colourful graffiti and declarations of love by passersby who've left their marks.
As expected, the problem of rubbish that is thought to have started the whole fire hasn't gone away. Centralia is still littered with rubbish from tourists and trespassers who dump their rubbish and leave.
Will the fire ever stop burning?
The fire eventually has to stop. It can't burn below sea level.
At its current rate and position, experts predict it will continue to burn for at least another 250 years. That's roughly until the year 2,270.
Until then, Centralia is a ghost town on fire. Would you pay it a visit?
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