While I was out in Pennsylvania this week, I was reminded of the story of Centralia, a small town about an hour southwest of Wilkes-Barre. For those unfamiliar with Centralia, it was founded in 1866, and was a thriving community, reaching a population of over 2,500 people by the mid-1960s. Today, fewer than a dozen remain. In 1962, while burning trash in the landfill (the site of an old coal mine pit), an underground coal seam was ignited. Although the fire was thought to be extinguished, it remained burning underground, spreading through the mines which criss-crossed below the town. Over the years, a number of unsuccessful attempts were made to extinguish the fire. Finally, in the early 1980s, when a number of sink holes and subsidences opened up, the true extent of the situation was discovered. Ultimately, the federal government purchased the land, and paid to relocate the residents. A handful of residents have remained in the town. Most of the buildings have been torn down, leaving an almost empty grid of streets and sidewalks. On the south side of town, next to one of the town's four cemeteries, smoke and steam can be seen rising from the ground.
An abandoned building on the road south of town. The original 4-lane highway in this area was abandoned following a number of cave-ins.
Ukrainian Orthodox church on the hill overlooking Centralia.
I believe the red object is a vent for underground gases.
The Municipal Building...there is a flag out front, and an old ambulance and fire truck in the garage, but the small police force was long ago disbanded. I was there on January 1, so I don't know if the office is actually still open. The town does still have a mayor, a 91 year old resident.
Today, more than 46 years after it started, the underground fire continues to burn. Estimates say it could burn for another 250 years before it runs out of coal to fuel it. I plan to return when the weather is a little warmer, and hope to explore this unfortunate town a little further.