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The Centralia mine, Centralia


Map of the
town of
County, P.A.

Centralia Pennsylvania was once a thriving mining town, a

place to settle down with a family, the future was bright.
Then, through human error and perhaps a little nave
arrogance, fire came to Centralia, and it was utterly
devastating. Now the town is no more, the ghost of even a
ghost town. People still visit the site, looking at the serene
and eerily empty streets. In 2013, a group of college
students made a documentary, traveling the country in
search of the truth behind paranormal stories. I saw the town
that once was, the empty lot; the idea that fire burns
continuously below. But what effects did all this have on the
land? What had subterranean fire caused to the
environment? Are there long term effects? These questions
that I raised were what snared my interest, and through my
research for this assignment I have found that the
environment around Centralia has been changed in as many,
if not more ways than that of the Chernobyl disaster, not
through radiation, but through transitional slides, acid rain,
subsidence, and temperature influxes.
Centralia P.A. was a small coal mining town, located in the
eastern half of the state of Pennsylvania. This side of the
state is on top of the worlds biggest deposits of anthracite
coal. This type of coal is best described as being, hard, shiny,
and clean burning. Centralia had a rich deposit of anthracite
The Locust Mountain Coal and Iron company was the first
mine. After the mine rail was finished, massive amounts of
coal were being mined.
People started moving to Centralia to the mining camps,
soon Centralia had grown into a town. Coal Ridge and Locust
Run mine were opened in 1856. The Hazeldell colliery, the
Centralia and Continental opened from 1860-1863.

J.M. Freck & Company Centralia Colliery, 1864

Centralia Colliery, 1928

Lehigh Valley Coal co.

by Robert Evans, Hazleton PA

by Robert Evans, Hazleton


Centralia, PA looking north in 1906.


Centralia, PA in 1915. Looking north on Locust Ave. Credit:

Due to WWI and strikes mining production declined. When

the stock market crashed in 1929 the Lehigh Valley Coal
company had to close mines that were in Centralia and other
During the 19th and 20th centuries, miners made long maze
like tunnels and shafts to gain access to deeper coal
deposits. Because of this, the many interconnecting airways
caused fire hazards. Coal fires started were able to be
extinguished by the miners.
Due to lack of work Bootleg mining started. They entered
abandoned mines and extracted coal from the roof of the
mine, which caused cave-ins and collapse of the mines.
During WWII, more opportunities arose for coal mining.
Technological shifts would see a downturn of coal mining as
gas and oil began to be used to heat homes.

By the early 1960s, most of the Centralia mines were shut

down and abandoned. People left because of no work.
By 1962, there were about 1,400 people living in Centralia.
On the day before Memorial Day, the town of Centralia would
be changed forever.
It was Sunday May 27, 1962. Residents were getting ready
for Memorial Day events planned for the next day.
Officials decided to dispose of their landfill as they had
always done in the past, by setting it on fire. The landfill was
located on top of an abandoned coal mine. They set fire to
the huge pile of trash, and while it burned, the fire found its
way into the mine and slowly and steadily started burn the
The firefighters tried to put the fire out with water. The
firemen pumped water onto the flames underground. They
also tried to smother it with clay. The fire kept burning.
In November 1962 they planned to drill and put the fire out.
By 1963 budget cuts stopped this before the fire was out. In
1963 a trench that would put a barrier between the town and
fire was planned. The fire had gone beyond the trench and
the digging stopped.
1967 Drilling showed that the fire was 225 feet deep. A new
plan to use flush barriers which was water and crushed stone
was considered. Wet sand, gravel, cement and even clay
were also considered.
Coal fires can exceed 1,000 degrees F which would
ultimately melt these materials leaving more gaps.
The fire was getting closer to many peoples homes and they
demanded action from the Mining bureau to help them.
The flush barrier idea was scrapped. It was decided to use
fly ash barriers instead. Fly ash is byproduct that comes
from power plants that burn coal. However this was not
going to happen until 1969.
In 1969 residents were starting to get headaches and nausea
due to the toxic fumes. The mining bureau dug small
trenches to protect the homes that were closest to the fire.

1974 Fly ash barrier was completed. But it had already

failed in 1972. The fire had already gone beyond the area.
Many residents believed the ash barrier was not working and
the fire was still moving towards the town.
The Bureau of Mines ignored the residents worries, saying
the barrier was a success.
In 1976 residents wanted the mine bureau to do something
for their town.
In 1977 the media became aware of toxic fumes and gases,
coming from the mine fire.
1977 they started to drill new boreholes to see how the fly
ash was working. The fly ash barrier was for the most part
not working. They tried with fly ash again in 1978.
1978 people wanted more boreholes dug to see how far the
fire had burned.
People wanted a new trench dug and then filled with
materials that do not combust. This method would
supposedly make a wall that would be underground to keep
fire from the town.
This method would involve destroying homes and the
residents were not happy with that idea.
1979 carbon monoxide and other gases were coming up into
peoples basements and causing them to pass out.
December 1979 the gas station had to be closed because
the heat from the fire was causing the gas tanks to heat up.
Demolition of the Coddington service station and residence on
Locust Avenue, November 1981.


Coddington service station location year 2000

Bureaucratic interference kept the town from making any

Carbon monoxide detectors were given to residents for the
purpose of monitoring air.
The detectors were expensive and families had to share
If the alarm went off the only option they had was to
ventilate their home by opening windows.
In 1980 gases were detected at St. Ignatius School, causing
concern from parents.
Mine fire vent pipes and flushing of mine tunnels that were
near school were ordered.

This was unsuccessful and by this time the fire was under
150 acres of the land.
Frustrated residents wanted to be bought out and relocated
away from the fires. Others wanted to stay and refused to
By the 1980s, all Federal and state efforts to put out the fire
were discontinued.
In 1981 the fire is visible on the surface with temps being at
1200 degrees F.
Feb. 1981 local boy Todd Domboski falls into hole filled with
steam while walking across a yard, he is rescued by his
During 1981 more people were getting carbon monoxide and
carbon dioxide poisoning.
Locals form group to determine what was to be done for
their town.
1981 most residents wanted to be relocated. The
government purchased their homes and helped them move
to other towns.
In 1982 there is an effort to create more boreholes to see the
boundaries of the mine fire. Dense, hot gases were being
released into the air and ground continued to sink.
In 1983, the neighboring town of Byrnsville is now
threatened by mine fire.
This same year (1983) the Centralia townsfolk formed Unity
Day to draw attention from media and politicians.
By July of 1983 the fire is under at least 195 acres. To try to
stop the fire, it would require a 3 quarter of a mile long pit,
as deep as 45 story building, and would cost $660 million to
excavate to completely stop the fire, this would destroy a lot
of homes, and cost more than property values in the town.
By Ocotber 1983, the fire burning below had begun to punch
through to the topside, causing many landslides, and, as the
etextbook points out, debris flows can occur due to erosion
caused by wildfires, and, in this case, the fires underground
that stripped away the vegetation from heat.

Also in October 1983, a graphic designer and photographer

by the name of Bill Douthitt captures spectacular
photographs of such a debris flow caused by the river of fire
below ground.

Bill Douthitts photograph capturing a scene of transitional slide

and the subterranean fire punching through to the surface.

The enormous numbers cause more residents vote to leave.

The Centralia Mine Fire Acquisition Relocation Project Begins.
Most leave voluntarily in 1983 and 1984.
The P.A. commonwealth takes ownership of properties that
residents sold to them.
Homes were demolished, leveled and basements were filled
in. This was being done when several homes in a row were
sold and the boarded up, which caused other residents to
want to move as well.
Some row homes had to have buttresses built after others
had been torn down to prevent fire and destruction to them.
A total of 600 structures, buildings and homes were
Many of those still living in the town were giving in to
pressure and worry, while feeling betrayed by the others
who had chosen
to leave. Some
saw it as chance
to start over.
By 1987, the
underground fire
became too
hazardous and
began to
In the 1990s a
stretch of Route
61 was closed due to damage.

Steam rises from a fissure in old Route 61 in Centralia PA. Credit:

Route 61 damaged road
In 1992 the Governor of Pennsylvania declares eminent
domain on the properties that are left in the town. For liability
reasons, Pennsylvanias government got land deeds and
continued relocation efforts.
In 1995 residents filed a lawsuit to stop the forced eviction.
By 2000 only 21 residents remained.
In 2002 the United States Postal Service revokes the zip code
because of there is not the population to support it. The post
office itself had been torn down in 1997.
By 2013 the eight remaining residents are allowed to stay in
their homes until they pass away, then the property will go to
the state of P.A.
In 2014, due to pop
culture references to the
town in the media and
the video game series
and movies called Silent
Hill that were inspired by
the events that occurred

in Centralia, there is still an interest in it and the fire burning

below, and many still visit what is left.

to help
with the
cleanup day in Centralia. They were listed on this banner.

Piles of
were found on this hillside and throughout other parts of the
It is estimated that the fire burns up to 300 feet deep.
Over past 50 years, 50-75 feet were burned per year.
The voids underground caused cracks and the collapse of
above ground giving air, to fuel the fire. Tree stumps vent
smoke from the center.
The 8 mile stretch of about 3,700 acres total.

There is an approximate 250 more years of possible coal to

25 million tons of coal were available before first mining
30%-50% of coal is all that is left.
Even if the fire cools down, toxic gases and collapsing ground
would keep the town from being rebuilt.
Greenhouse gases, air pollution, vegetation dying off and
heated ground are some of the known environmental effects.

It is unknown how much CO2 the Centralia mine has released

into the air.
The air in Centralia is considered safe for breathing.
Rare exotic minerals have been found where gases have been
Sulfur steam comes out of fissures and holes in ground.
According to the etextbook, the burning of fossil fuels produce
the pollutants sulfur and nitrogen. These create sulfuric and
nitric acid. These acids are main parts of acid rain. Chemical
weathering speeds up from acid rain.
Nitrogen, fluorine, arsenic, and selenium are some of the other
toxic chemicals that emit from the burning coal.
The fire underneath bakes the surface.
Some holes that have opened are large enough to fit entire
Today what exists in Centralia is mostly a grid of streets and
vacant lots taken over by trees and foliage.
There is no current way to make use of heat from the fire due
to economic and environmental factors.
Underground mining in Centralia is not possible because the
fire has made it too dangerous to access the coal.
The mine burns too unevenly to be used to generate
electricity, the heat source not consistent enough and vent
patterns, collapse, and fire control projects continue to
contribute to uneven burning.
Temperatures in the 1970s and 1980s were +1,000 degrees F.
The highest recorded temp when fire was closest to surface
was 1,350 degrees F. Ground surface temps were +900
degrees F.
It would be too hard to construct and keep an airtight seal in
order to smother the fire.
Barriers have been made to protect other neighboring towns
from the fire while others were also moved.
Steel pipes sticking out of ground were used to monitor
subsurface temperatures and gases. Others were used to vent
gases away from residential buildings.

These are vent pipes located around Centralia.

<a href=""><img alt=""

s/04/35/95/48/centralia.jpg"/></a><br/>This photo of Centralia is

courtesy of TripAdvisor
There is a drainage tunnel used to drain standing water from
the mine. 3.3 million gallons a day are discharged.
Pennsylvania has 38 burning coal mines.
There are 241 burning abandoned mine fires in the U.S. alone.
The United States has the largest coal reserve in the world.
There are several thousand burning mines all over the world.
China, India and Australia also have many.
Australia has the oldest known coal fire. It has been burning
for 6,000 years.

Centralia PA aerial photo, 1959

Centralia, 1971

Centralia PA 2007

Centralia cemeteries

Dastrup, Adam R. MA, GISP, Ramjoue, George, MS.