In May 1962, Centralia Borough Council
hired five members of the volunteer fire company to clean up
the town landfill, located in an abandoned strip mine pit next
to the Odd Fellows Cemetery. This had been done prior to Memorial
Day in previous years, when the landfill was in a different location.
The firefighters, as they had in the past, set the dump on fire,
and let it burn for a time. Unlike in previous years, however,
the fire was not extinguished.
The fire remained burning in the lower
depths of the garbage and eventually spread through a hole in
the rock pit into the abandoned coal mines beneath Centralia.
Attempts to extinguish the fire were unsuccessful, and it continued
to burn throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Adverse health effects
were reported by several people due to the carbon monoxide produced.
Where PA Route 61 cuts off due to the mine fire in 1979, locals
became aware of the scale of the problem when a gas-station owner
inserted a stick into one of his underground tanks to check the
fuel level. When he withdrew it, it seemed hot, so he lowered
a thermometer down on a string and was shocked to discover that
the temperature of the gasoline in the tank was 172 °F (77.8
°C). State-wide attention to the fire began to increase,
culminating in 1981 when 12-year-old Todd Domboski fell into
a sinkhole four feet wide by 150 feet (46 m) deep that suddenly
opened beneath his feet. He was saved after his older cousin
pulled him from the mouth of the hole before he could plunge
to his probable death. The incident brought national attention
to Centralia as an investigatory group including a state
representative, a state senator, and a mine safety director
was coincidentally on a walking tour of Domboski's neighborhood
at the time of his incident.
Section of PA Route 61 closed due to mine fire.In 1984, Congress
allocated more than $42 million for relocation efforts. Most
of the residents accepted buyout offers and moved to the nearby
communities of Mount Carmel and Ashland. A few families opted
to stay despite warnings from state officials.
In 1992, Pennsylvania claimed eminent
domain on all properties in the borough, condemning all the buildings
within. A subsequent legal effort by residents to have the decision
reversed failed. In 2002, the United States Postal Service revoked
Centralia's ZIP code, 17927.