Centralia: A City On Fire
Other than cities buried by nearby volcanoes, there are few places on earth more ravaged by fire than the town of Centralia Pennsylvania because it has been burning for more than fifty years.
As it turns out, Centralia was a coal mining town, and the reason it has been burning for so long is because of the exposed coal veins caught fire and can’t be put out.
How Did The Mine Fire Start?
The mine fire started with a poor decision essentially. The town strip mine dump was in disrepair and it was determined by the city council that it needed cleaning up.
The method for doing so was not determined before setting a “plan” in action that would accomplish this.
Retrospectively, many believe that the reason for this omission was because while a fire was always intended as the method for cleanup, doing so would violate state environmental laws, and not discussing this as the means would skirt the legal ramifications of doing so.
While the fire was intended as a means to burn excess trash and debris, it was set on top of an active coal vein which ignited in the process.
The local fire fighters were brought in to handle the initial blaze and multiple attempts were made to hose the fire into submission.
Shockingly, these lackadaisical extinguishing attempts didn’t succeed, and the fire raged on unabated much to the chagrin of residents in the area too.
What Happened Next?
After various failures to put out the fire with paltry hosing efforts, a series of bureaucratic blunders kept the fire from being fully extinguished.
Multiple bids were put in to excavate the fire with trench work and bulldozers, but to those in power, they seemed too expensive.
When a bid finally was accepted, the amount was too small to fund the entire operation, and sheer stupidity eliminated any chances of the fire being put out.
One of the more foolish choices made was to limit work to areas that might be on fire, rather than where the fire definitely was.
This was prevented due to the mine being owned by a separate company which wouldn’t allow for test drilling to be performed outside of the suspected burn area.
The company that was doing the excavation and extinguishing the fire was only allowed to work eight hour shifts at a time, and fires don’t stop burning just because people go on lunch break.
Additionally, no work at all was done over labor day weekend due to the holiday, and this allowed the fire to rage on unchecked.
The Fire Rages On
Concomitant to the rest of these poor decisions, an extremely small excavator shovel was used which prevented the excavation from taking out the whole fire at once, and instead supplied lower layers of the fire with more oxygen which only enraged the flames.
Despite all of the efforts made by those in power at the time, no method for extinguishing the fire succeeded, nor does anyone truly know how the mine fire actually started to this day.
Ultimately congress has spent more than $42 million in relocation costs to evacuate the entire town to prevent people from falling into sinkholes, succumbing to carbon monoxide poisoning, or any of the other various ways that the subterranean mine can kill those living above it.
Today there are only seven residents left in an area that once supported more than 2,700 people. Those that remain are allowed to do so at their own risk, and their properties will be turned over to the state when they are deceased.
It’s probably a good thing that the state will take control over the area since some estimates say that the coal remaining in the mine could supply the mine fire with another 250 years of burning material.