After 50 Years of Underground Fire, Centralia stands as another abandoned testament to industrial progress
No one lives in the little town of Centralia PA, located on route 61 in western PA. Route 61 detours around the site, and Centralia no longer appears on some maps. Like Times Beach, MO, Love Canal, NY and Anniston AL (among others), Centralia is a victim of our industrialized civilization, another town where the people who once lived there no longer do.
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In the case of Centralia, the town was evacuated permanently as an underground coal seam fire burned out of control. The underground inferno started in 1962 when a trash fire was lit in an abandoned mine pit in this anthracite coal country mining town Centralia. The fire 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.
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 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 carbon emissions traceable to fossil fuels.