Thursday, April 5, 2012

Eternally On Fire: The Town Of Centralia - Nonfiction - A to Z Challenge

Centralia at dusk. Most of the former borough blocks are now entirely clear of residences. Photo credit: Mredden via Wikimedia Commons.
A portion of Route 61, Centralia, PA. Photo credit:  JohnDS via Wikimedia Commons

Centralia, Pennsylvania, USA: population in 2010, 10. The zip code has been revoked by the US Postal Service. It's a ghost town, and its story would make a wonderful setting for a science fiction movie.  Unfortunately, Centralia's accidental demise is a sad but true tale.

"This was a world where no human could live, hotter than the planet Mercury, its atmosphere as poisonous as Saturn's. At the heart of the fire, temperatures easily exceeded 1,000 degrees [Fahrenheit]. Lethal clouds of carbon monoxide and other gases swirled through the rock chambers." - David DeKok (1986)

The general consensus is that the mine fire which has been burning underground since May 1962 started in a landfill which was located in an old mining pit.  Fire penetrated the lining of the trash pit and ignited the remaining coal seams which lay under the town of Centralia.  The fire continued to resist efforts to extinguish it; throughout the 60s and 70s, sinkholes appeared periodically, steam vents in the ground spewed carbon monoxide, and the extreme heat posed a danger to underground fuel storage tanks and pipes.

In 1982 Congress approved money for relocation efforts, and a large portion of Centralia's population accepted buy-outs.  In 1992, the state claimed eminent domain over all of the properties and condemned structures. A few residents continue to fight eviction.

It is estimated that upward of 24 million tons of coal remain under Centralia, enough to fuel the fires for 1000 years or more.

Centralia is accessible, although signs warn of the dangers of sinkholes, toxic gases, and superheated steam below the surface. Travel there at your own peril.

Where the Highway Cuts off Because of the Centralia Mine Fire. Photo credit: CapturinG - HistorY via Wikimedia Commons

Warning sign on PA 61 in Centralia. Photo credit:  Lyndi & Jason via Wikimedia Commons


  1. That's spooky, thanks for sharing.

  2. Gosh - how sad! Hotter than Mercury, and it's all thanks to Man's efforts. Oh boy.

  3. Sounds like a hair band song: Highway to Hell. Yeah, a great scifi story/movie to be sure. Write it, Li!!

  4. This is disturbing and rather eerie.


  5. Wow that is an incredible place. As you say a great setting for a movie. I really want to go there :)

    Here's my E post:

  6. Many movies have been shot in PA, haven't they? PA is great for various films.

    I am stopping by via the A - Z Challenge link up, following you via GFC, and twitter. Feel free to stop by my blog at (my b- c and d post combined)

  7. Informative post..
    My link to A-to-Z challenge -

  8. My husband and I were just talking about these coal-seam fires the other day!

    You'd think there would be a way to stop the burning, but with all those little cracks & crevices leading from the earth's surface back down to the fire...

    **Katy M (here on the A to Z trek)
    Recommending YA books beyond the bestsellers at
    Follow me on Twitter @BooksYALove

  9. Spooky and a fossil fuel that can't be saved nor used. We never cease to create our own hell holes. You have inspired a flash with this post, thank you.

  10. I'm actually very intrigued...what is Flash Fiction? I honestly have never heard of that word before and am really curious! I might call it something else but again, very curious!

  11. I had no idea a fire underground could just burn away like that. Very interesting post!

  12. Wow, I agree that really does have great potential for a science fiction or even a horror novel. I didn't even know this place existed and now I am curious to see it.

    Twitter: @Safireblade
    A to Z Blog Challenge

  13. A good place for a pedophile prison! No heat needed in the winter, or summer ...

  14. Wow, Lisa--I had no idea! This is, indeed, a great setting for a sci-fi / fantasy novel. Maybe you can write a short story about it, and go from there? Thanks for the education, and for popping over to my blog earlier today :)

  15. Hell on earth. What a concept. So instead of putting criminals on death row, we could just put them in Centralia, Podunk, Pennsylvania. I can't believe I said that out loud and in writing. I repent. See - it is hell on earth.

  16. this is so cool, well sad too. After reading Bill Bryson's book, I always wanted to check this place out.

  17. Oh my! I agree with Rekha, this is some spooky stuff. Still, I'm glad to have learned about Centralia today, because I'm in Pennsylvania but never even knew about this place. So, thanks for the history and geography lesson!

    Cheers :)

    Blog: The Madlab Post
    @MadlabPost on Twitter

  18. I just moved from PA and never heard of this place. I mean not that I would have visited it. Living up there for over 40 years, including NY and NJ, I can't believe I never heard of it. WOW! Good post!


  19. I've been sharing this woth everyone- incredible

  20. With, with, wIth. Sorry for spoiling your page with a silly typo Li. Loving all the A-Z (zed in UK of course) stuff.

  21. Thank you Matt :-)) No prob about the typo - I do it too!