The Earth is Burning…


Literally.  In Centralia, Pennsylvania USA that is, anyway.

In 1979, a local gas station owner dipped a stick into one of his fuel tanks to check the level of gas he had to sell.  When he pulled it back up, he noticed it was extremely warm — and subsequently lowered a thermometer on a string to the bottom of the tank for a few minutes.  Bringing it back up, he was extremely alarmed to find the temperature of his fuel to be over 170 degrees Fahrenheit.  Shortly after, in another part of town, a 12 year old boy fell into a sinkhole that opened below his feet — thankfully saved by another boy, as the steam coming out of the hole was filled with lethal levels of carbon dioxide.

This drew state and eventually federal attention to the fact that Centralia, a mining community, had a MASSIVE fire burning beneath their feet — literally below the ground itself, and it was so large, nothing humanly feasible could stop it.

The fire was traced to a mine event in 1962 where the anthracite in an active mine caught fire, and was abandoned and collapsed for protection.  What people didn’t know was that the fire raged on… and subsequently; and somehow, spread to the abandoned mines under Centralia… and continued burning.  Anthracite is, in a way, self-oxidizing, and can burn without direct oxygen feed from the surface — something that has been demonstrated by this fire for the last 51 years.

Panoramic view of Route 61 through Centralia, PA

Panoramic view of Route 61 through Centralia, PA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1992, when the State of Pennsylvania learned of the threat to life brought by the fire and the damage it was causing property, the Governor of Pennyslvania at the time, Bob Casey, invoked the laws of eminent domain and declared the entire borough of Centralia — stating that the entire town’s buildings were to be condemned, and all people were to be relocated and compensated.   While most left without much question, many chose to stay, including Centralia’s Mayor, Carl Womer — who continues to serve as Mayor.  While a very few homes remain, almost all of them have been demolished by the county authority or by nature itself.  Some residents remain as well, but against the advice and indeed, order of the state’s executive.

Since 1992, the Anthracite fire has spread to the mines beneath the neighboring town of Byrnesville, which was completely abandoned with the last home was torn down in 1996,  Scientists believe that the fire could continue to burn for at least another century before it will self-extinguish by depleting the anthracite, and could very well have burned for 200 years by the time it ceases.

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