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Fire Down Below

Underground Coal Fire - Centralia, Pennsylvania

The town of Centralia no longer exists. It has been largely abandoned years ago and the government revoked it's zip codes and condemned the buildings. The reason - An underground coal fire that has now been burning for over 45 years. I visited the remains of Centralia to see what has become of the town and to check on the status of the fire.

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One of the steaming holes, evidence of the fire that still burns beneath the surface.

Hot gases belch up from cracks in the Earth like this one.

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The old highway 61, now buckled and cracked. The new highway section totally bypasses the former town site.

Steam & smoke coming up through the cracks in the abandoned roadway.

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Large fissures have opened up along old highway 61.

Hot!... It sure is. The underground fire has been burning for over four and a half decades.

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One of the burials that was drilled to check on the status of the fire.

Dead trees, likely killed by high levels of carbon monoxide.

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Most of the old buildings are gone, very few remain.

The overgrown, abandoned streets are some of the only clues that 1000 people used to live here.

From Wikipedia:

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.