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Spooky Places – Centralia, Pennsylvania

Updated on March 22, 2024
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Devin enjoys history, gardening, cooking, and blacksmithing in his spare time.

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Once a thriving coal mining town, Centralia, Pennsylvania is now virtually abandoned

A population of over 1000 people has been reduced to 10 people over the last twenty years.

What happened in this town that caused almost everyone to flee, leaving behind a ghost town, a shadow of the community it once was?

What happened to Centralia?

One day a gas station owner was checking the amount of gasoline in an underground tank using a dipstick. When the dipstick was removed, he noticed that it seemed very hot. He then lowered a thermometer, which was found to read 172 degrees Fahrenheit. These events revealed the deeper problem.

Centralia was on fire.

Below the bustle of Centralia's grocery stores, churches, bars and homes. Below the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, below everything, in Centralia's old abandoned mine, a fire had been burning for years.

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How did Centralia's fire start?

There are some unknowns about how the Centralia fire started. Perhaps it was a combination of things, a series of events that, each taken by themselves, would have meant nothing.

The most commonly cited theory is that the cities garbage, long collected and burned at the landfill, was not fully extinguished this year. Firefighters had gathered and burned garbage every year at a different location, on memorial day.

This year, the landfill had been moved to a different location, an old, abandoned mining pit. The belief is that the fire wound its way down the shaft to find a coal vein. Once it made its home in the coal vein, nothing could have stopped it from spreading.

The events of the gas station would happen 20 years later. The fire had been burning underneath the surface the whole time. Things came to a head when, in 1981 a young boy was suddenly swallowed up when the earth opened up beneath him in his very own backyard. The hole was 150 feet deep. He was narrowly saved by his cousin, who was able to pull him to safety. Tests would later indicate that the hot steam had lethal levels of carbon monoxide.

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Repercussions of the Centralia Coal Fire

Even now, nearly 50 years after the fire started, it rages on. Hot gases, steam, and carbon monoxide seep up from the ground. The fire has spread to nearby Byrnesville, which is now also abandoned. The ground is hot to the touch.

Some estimates report that Centralia will burn for 250 more years.

Photo: US Bureau of Mines, small portion of Centralia mine fire, 1969
Photo: US Bureau of Mines, small portion of Centralia mine fire, 1969

Old Route 61 has opened up like the underworld is trying to swallow it whole. A new route 61 has been built to replace it.

The governor of Pennsylvania invoked imminent domain to evict the remaining residents.

Most of the town has been demolished. 5 homes contain the remaining holdouts, which number less than 10.

On August 28, 2011, the last church in Centralia (pictured at the beginning of this article), celebrated 100 years of worship. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church still opens its doors today.

The 4 cemeteries remain in remarkable condition, despite closeness of the fire. Gases and steam rise near and from the inside of one, which is located on an otherwise peaceful, quiet hill.

Centralia's church, hill, and eerie, abandoned buildings became the setting for disturbing horror movie, Silent Hill.

Watch a firsthand account of how Centralia looks today, below.

A first-hand look of how Centralia looks today.

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