After 50 years of burning coal seams, Centralia remains an abandoned toxic testament to industrial progress
No one lives in the little town of Centralia PA, located on route 61 in east central PA. Route 61 detours around the site, and Centralia no longer appears on some maps due to the post office’s revocation of its zip code in 2002. Like Times Beach, MO, Love Canal, NY, Anniston AL and Picher, OK (among others), Centralia is a victim of our industrialized civilization, another town where the people once lived and raised families, but no longer do. Where the town once stood, fissures appear without warning, spewing the poisonous vapors of the eternal fire smoldering below.
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The central Pennsylvania former mining town was evacuated permanently as an underground coal seam fire burned out of control for decades. The underground inferno started in 1962 when a trash fire was lit in an abandoned mine pit, which in turn ignited an exposed vein of coal and spread throughout the mines beneath the borough. Several attempts have been made and millions of dollars have been spent unsuccessfully to extinguish this fire, which continues to burn today. It is expected to burn for at least 250 more years.
On May 22, 1969 the first three families were moved from Centralia. A trench was dug north of the Odd Fellows Cemetery where fly ash and clay seals were used in an attempt to put out the fire. This was the first of a series of half-assed efforts to contain the fire, as the government waffled and wasted more money on unfunded efforts.
The once bustling coal-mining town — then home to over 2,000 people — is now a smoldering expanse of overgrown streets, cracked pavement and charred trees. Everywhere, streams of toxic gas spew into the air from hundreds of fissures in the ground.
The Centralia fire is one of hundreds of of coal seam fires burning in Pennsylvania, and thousands burning around the world. While burning coal in natural deposits can happen spontaneously, the overwhelming number of fires are in abandoned coal mines. The amount of CO2 generated by these fires is 2 -3 % of the total traceable to fossil fuels. Of course, these fires release the same poisons described in Section 2.