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Centralia Coal Mine Fire: Real Life Horror Story

Updated on March 22, 2013

Centralia Coal Mine Fire: The REAL "Silent Hill"

A coal fire below Centralia, PA has been burning for 50 years and has enough fuel to burn for another 250 years. It's a real life horror story with no immediate end in sight. The roads are closed, signs are posted about toxic gas emissions, the cemeteries have a greater population than the town ever had, and the underground coal mine fire, which started in 1962, continues to burn.

In 1962, Centralia was a growing community of about 1100 residents. The town sat upon one of the richest veins of anthracite coal in the United States. Now there are 4 people who live there. One of the residents is Lamar Mervine, the town's 86 year old mayor, who recalls how no one took action for four or five months and when they did, it was too little, too late. He is determined to stay in Centralia and tell his story to all who ask.

In the 2006 horror film, "Silent Hill," the town of Silent Hill has been abandoned due to a prolonged mine fire. "This was inspired by Centralia, PA," says the film's director, Christophe Gan. Throughout the movie we see characters wandering through the mist wearing mining gear. Films such as "Silent Hill" and other Hollywood movies all have an ending. Unfortunately, the underground mine fire beneath Centralia, PA has no ending in sight.

Flickr Photograph © 2007 "Centralia, PA (detail)" by divinemisscopa
This is a detail of the original photograph, which is shown in its entirety toward the end of this lens. Some Rights Reserved


This Is a Real Life Horror Story

Warning Signs Are Everywhere

PA's Department of Environmental Protection Warns People to Stay Away

The photograph below shows one of the many signs put up by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection warning people to stay away. Still people come by to see what's going on and to photograph and videotape the site. The air reeks with the smell of sulphur. Highway cracks run hundreds of feet, and some are several feet deep. Smoke, gasses and noxious fumes pour out of the earth. Danger is everywhere.

Image adapted from Flickr photograph by dmuth

Some Rights Reserved

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Fire Underground: The Ongoing Tragedy of the Centralia Mine Fire by by David DeKok - Amazon Book Review

"Award-winning journalist David DeKok tells, how the Centralia mine fire really started in 1962. He shows how local, state and federal government officials failed to take effective action, allowing the fire to move underneath the small town of Centralia, Pennsylvania. By early 1981, the fire was sending deadly gases into homes, forcing the federal government to install gas alarms."

"A 12-year-old boy dropped into a steaming hole in the ground wrenched open by the fire's heat on Valentine's Day as the region's congressman toured nearby." The hole was about four feet in diameter and approximately 150 feet deep. The boy managed to hold on to exposed tree roots and was pulled out by his cousin.

"DeKok tells how the people of Centralia banded together to demand help from the government, finally winning money to relocate much of the town."

Fire Underground: The Ongoing Tragedy Of The Centralia Mine Fire
Fire Underground: The Ongoing Tragedy Of The Centralia Mine Fire

David DeKok knows more about the Centralia, PA mine fires than any other author.

 
Unseen Danger: A Tragedy of People, Government, and the Centralia Mine Fire
Unseen Danger: A Tragedy of People, Government, and the Centralia Mine Fire

This award winning book is currently out- of-print but if you can get your hands on a copy, it's well worth it.

 
Slow Burn: A Photodocument of Centralia, Pennsylvania (Keystone Books)
Slow Burn: A Photodocument of Centralia, Pennsylvania (Keystone Books)

This is a stunning photo-documentary of the nightmare that is ongoing in Centralia, PA.

 
The Day the Earth Caved In: An American Mining Tragedy
The Day the Earth Caved In: An American Mining Tragedy

This 2009 publication tells the story of this tragic mining town through the eyes and experiences of its people. The book contains eight pages of black and white photographs.

 

True Hell: The Centralia Mine Fire Continues to Rage Out of Control

Smoke & toxic gas from the underground mine fire emanates from the ground.

With the fire burning out of control directly below, the highway has cracked and buckled. Smoke pours out of the cracks.

Flickr Photograph © 2006 "Route 61" by jesiehart

Taken in Byrnsville, Pennsylvania

Some Rights Reserved

Hell on Earth

It's a Real Life Horror Story

"This was a world where no human could live, hotter than the planet Mercury, its atmosphere as poisonous as Saturn's. At the heart of the fire, temperatures easily exceeded 1,000 degrees. Lethal clouds of carbon monoxide and other gases swirled through the rock chambers."

(DeKok, David (1986). Unseen Danger; A Tragedy of People, Government, and the Centralia Mine Fire. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 17)

Flickr Photograph © 2008 "Burnt Couch" by Proper Pictures
Some Rights Reserved

Stretch of Highway in Centralia

Flickr photographer "divinemisscopa" wrote the following about her photograph below: "Here you can see a large crevice in a stretch of highway, now abandoned, leading to Centralia, PA. There was smoke rising from the center of the crack, however, it was difficult to capture it in this photograph. I woke up this morning with a sore throat, undoubtedly caused by sucking in this stuff for an hour or so yesterday."

Flickr Photograph © 2007 "Centralia, PA" by divinemisscopa
Some Rights Reserved

Discovery Channel: "Centralia Coal Fire" 2002 - Underground Inferno

In the video below, the Discovery Channel takes a look at this raging underground coal mine fire.

The road continues to subside and to crack, swallowing up anything that's on top of it, be it cars or buildings. Shoes left by a member of the Discovery Channel for 20 minutes on a hot spot melted into a bubbly mass of oozing goo.

State and federal authorities took years to mobilize, and all attempts to put out the fire have failed. Take a look at this video for more information.

 



Smoke wafts from a Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) monitoring hole in Centralia, Pennsylvania.

Wikipedia P.D. Photograph © 2007 "Centralia, PA"

Centralia and Byrnesville, Pennsylvania

The town of Centralia and the neighboring village of Byrnesville have been devastated by the mine fire. You can read more about the village of Brynesville and see pictures here: Byrnesville, Pennsylvania. The last home was torn down there in 1996.

A markerCentralia, PA -
Centralia, PA
get directions

The Former Highway Into Town

Route 61, Centralia, Pennsylvania

This is a panoramic view of [what was] Route 61 through Centralia, Pennsylvania.

Photo from Wikipedia Commons, taken by Macaddct1984 in 2008 and released into the Public Domain.

Cinder Block Shrine

Brynesville, Pennsylvania

The town of Centralia has been devastated. The neighboring village of Brynesville has also been abandoned because of fire. The last home there was demolished in 1996. All that exists now in Brynesville are the ruins of the coal miner's washhouse and this shrine, made of cinder blocks and old bathtubs.(See photo below)

Flickr Photograph © 2008 "IMG_0460" by daysofthundr46
Some Rights Reserved

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Why Did It Get So Out of Control?

How Could This Happen?

Information Courtesy of the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia

"One theory asserts that in May 1962, Centralia Borough Council hired five members of the volunteer fire company to clean up the town landfill, located in an abandoned strip mine pit next to the Odd Fellows Cemetery. This had been done prior to Memorial Day in previous years, when the landfill was in a different location. The firefighters, as they had in the past, set the dump on fire, and let it burn for a time. Unlike in previous years, however, the fire was not extinguished."

"The fire remained burning underground and spread through a hole in the rock pit into the abandoned coal mines beneath Centralia. Attempts to extinguish the fire were unsuccessful and it continued to burn throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Adverse health effects were reported by several people due to the byproducts of the fire, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide and lack of healthy oxygen levels."

"In 1979, locals became aware of the scale of the problem when a gas-station owner and then mayor, John Coddington, inserted a stick into one of his underground tanks to check the fuel level. When he withdrew it, it seemed hot, so he lowered a thermometer down on a string and was shocked to discover that the temperature of the gasoline in the tank was 172 °F (77.8 °C). Statewide attention to the fire began to increase, culminating in 1981 when 12-year-old resident Todd Domboski fell into a subsidence four feet wide by 150 feet (46 m) deep that suddenly opened beneath his feet in a backyard."

"In 1984, Congress allocated more than $42 million for relocation efforts. Most of the residents accepted buyout offers and moved to the nearby communities of Mount Carmel and Ashland. A few families opted to stay despite warnings from state officials."

"In 1992, Pennsylvania claimed eminent domain on all properties in the borough, condemning all the buildings within. A subsequent legal effort by residents to have the decision reversed failed. In 2002, the United States Postal Service revoked Centralia's ZIP Code, 17927."

Information Courtesy of the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia

More Information Can be Found in These Books

Centralia: Tragedy Of A Town - The Real Silent Hill

 

Silent Hill: The Movie Trailer - Inspired by Centralia, Pennsylvania

 

Did You Know About This?

Did you know about the underground fire before reading this lens?

Yes, I know about it!

Yes, I know about it!

Submit a Comment

  • JeepWranglerNation 3 years ago

    I didn't know, until one sunny afternoon we were driving though PA and came upon a small town which didn't have any home or buildings.. just well marked streets, side walks and curbs. Just look strange.. were we missing something?.. Later I found out via a Jeep Wrangler Forum.. They were gathering up a group to go off roading there.. Clearly ignoring the warnings. These off roaders make us (legit off roaders) look bad when they attempt to venture into areas where there are warnings to keep out posted.

  • Zdiddle 3 years ago

    Yep. I read about it in Bill Bryson's book "A Walk in the Woods" and was determined to visit once I moved to PA.

  • Marisa Horn 4 years ago from Rintown Pa

    Yes, I live about 15 miles away. It is not scary to anyone living here but it is sad and was especially so for the people that had to move out of their homes.

  • GenWatcher LM 4 years ago

    yes

  • Cinnamonbite 4 years ago

    I'm going tomorrow!

  • getwellsoon 5 years ago

    Yes, I looked it up after seeing silent hill.

  • MissChassit 5 years ago

    Yes, I did. I'd seen some of the pictures, too - they're beautiful in a sad, scary way.

  • vodou lm 5 years ago

    Yes. A totally different kind of ghost town!

  • seosri417 5 years ago

    yes

  • Jenn Dixon 5 years ago from PA

    Yes. Passed by this place a few times.

  • gypsyman27 lm 5 years ago

    Dan Ackroyd and Chevy Chase did a movie about a town in Pennslyvania, it was a comedy. This is not funny, but the two comedians used information about this town to make their fictional town. See you around the galaxy...

  • TravelingRae 5 years ago

    I have read about it a number of times.

  • IYenForZen 5 years ago

    I had heard a news story on this a couple of years back.

  • intermarks 5 years ago

    Yes, I heard it happened quite many times.

  • asilonline lm 5 years ago

    I knew nothing about it.

  • HuritTaki 5 years ago

    I remember reading about this when the Silent Hill games came out. It's seriously scary. Though I wish there were a way to get pictures of the mines under the town.

  • DeniseDurham2011 5 years ago

    Yes, I knew about it. It is fascinating.

  • Elric22 5 years ago

    I kne wof this...but not so much. Great thread!

  • CruiseReady 5 years ago from East Central Florida

    Yes, I had heard about it, but had not seen pictures before.

  • TechGurrrl 5 years ago

    I've read a lot of magazine and news articles about it because it's just so bizarre. When I first heard of it, I was curious to know more and wondered why there wasn't more discussion about this, especially when we are in the midst of a debate about the continued use of coal (and other fossil fuels) v. alternative energy. Great lens.

  • TheGourmetCoffe 5 years ago

    Yes, this was recently mentioned in some radio program recently. Such a tragic story!

  • Lee Hansen 5 years ago from Vermont

    I've been to Centralia. I lived in Pottsville for awhile, about 12 years ago. Centralia is a dangerous and eerie place, and the whole situation is so sad. It's worse now than when I visited. Pennsylvania is full of horrible environmental disasters and the governor is working on creating another mining and flammables disaster with all the hydrofracturing they're promoting to get gas out of Marcellus shale deposits in the same area all the way up and into New York state.

  • WaynesWorld LM 5 years ago

    I did but I just learned about it this year when a cousin of a kid I went to school with posted some photos on Facebook.

    *

  • lftypjk900 5 years ago

    yes, I have heard many stories about the town. what a shame no one in our government can help to put out the fire

  • David Stone 5 years ago from New York City

    I did. There was a story on 60 Minutes quite a while ago, and we were interested enough to drive through on a trip. The town hadn't been abandoned yet, but it was a truly eerie experience.

  • sls450 5 years ago

    It's a neat place to see.

  • jopalei 5 years ago

    One relative and a family friend were both born there. Back in the 1990's, I was actually on that highway a couple of times and was able to see some of the smoke rising from the ground. I guess I won't be making that trip again.

  • TravelingRae 6 years ago

    Yes. I think I learned about it in a book or website about ghost towns.

  • promotional-coupons-codes 6 years ago

    I have seen the silent hill movie it's horrifying. This place is a total hell.

  • Ellen Brundige 6 years ago from California

    Growing up in eastern PA, I knew about it. As a kid i was actually somewhat worried the fire would reach my area. I was suspicious of governments telling us everything was perfectly safe (this was when Reagan was saying we could just go to West Virginia if there was a nuclear war). As far as I knew, the coal seams under Pennsylvania are interconnected, and I saw no particular reason to think the fire would STOP following them. I still wonder, a little: are we sure it won't just keep spreading, slowly but surely? Probably it won't, but yikes. And that poor town.

  • MagnoliaTree 6 years ago

    Yes, I knew about it, but this is still hard to read. Such a tragedy.

  • BlueStarling 6 years ago

    Yes, but it was something I had forgotten about. What devastating effects we have on the environment and consequently on ourselves. A very interesting lens about a very troubling subject.

  • traceysfolly lm 6 years ago

    I knew about it, and it is fascinating. I enjoyed reading your lens and viewing the pictures

  • ohcaroline 6 years ago

    I think I saw a tv story about it a long time ago...but didn't know it was still perpetually on fire.

  • Deb Kingsbury 6 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

    Yep, I read about it in Bill Bryson's "Walk in the Woods," although it's not really that close to the Appalachian Trail.

  • LabKittyDesign 6 years ago

    Knew an engineer who worked for a company that monitors coal mine fires like this (can't remember if they were watching Centralia, but it was in PA). The astonishing part is that, for all practical purposes, there's simply no way to put it out.

  • ToTheBrimm LM 6 years ago

    Fascinating story.

  • Karen Kay 7 years ago from Jackson, MS

    I did but am glad to know further info. It is a bizarre story for sure! I was reminding by RunTellmanRun.com blog, because the Tellman Knudson, running barefoot across the country, just passed through the area and wrote about it on his blog

  • missbat 8 years ago

    Yes, I read about it in a book on abandoned places as well as in the book "Coal". It's a terrifying story, unimaginable!

  • amandascloset0 8 years ago

    Yes I knew about it but you did a really great job in covering very much of the story. If it has to do with coal mining I research it and study it.

  • jimmykeehner 8 years ago

    I'm teaching TOEFL in South Korea and one of our upcoming passages is about this. I had no idea! This is shocking! Thank you for all of the information about this. This will certainly be an in-depth discussion topic.

  • jimmykeehner 8 years ago

    I'm teaching TOEFL in South Korea and one of our upcoming passages is about this. I had no idea! This is shocking! Thank you for all of the information about this. This will certainly be an in-depth discussion topic.

  • dc64 lm 8 years ago

    I heard of it years ago, and was just reminded of it with your lens. Amazing how it is still burning.

  • WebSpinstress 8 years ago

    I first heard about it through an article published in a magazine about 6 years ago. A few of our friends decided to visit it for themselves a couple years ago and bring back their own collection of photos. A sad story, but also very intriguing...

  • Linda Jo Martin 8 years ago from Post Falls, Idaho, USA

    Yes, I've known about the fire for years, but your lens explains the details I didn't know. I admire that mayor for remaining in his home.

  • Lee Hansen 8 years ago from Vermont

    It's a human tragedy and an environmental disaster that seems to have no solution. If you visit in the winter, it feels like you're near a sleeping volcano.

  • Kathryn Darden 8 years ago

    I had heard about ir, but I certainly learn a great deal from your lens!

  • Bambi Watson 8 years ago

    Yes, I also have known about it for years, but I'm an avid reader, and it pops up in a lot of fiction...makes a great horror story...it's just amazing that things like this exist due to man's rape of mother Earth.

  • MobyD 8 years ago

    I knew about Centralia years ago, and have even looked it up on Google Earth recently. It's a fascinating story.

I knew nothing about it.

Submit a Comment

  • BarbsSpot 4 years ago

    @Lensmaster...Hadn't heard about this. What a tragedy. Beautiful job on the Lens to share this information!

  • NibsyNell 4 years ago

    I can't believe I'd never heard about this before. So glad I came across this lens.

  • jeffersonline 4 years ago

    Lenses like this really make spending an hour or two a day on Squidoo really worthwhile. A really informative lens about what was, for me, an unknown subject. Got to sprinkle some Angel Dust here before I leave...

  • theallin1writer 4 years ago

    Goodness, I never knew about this!

  • MarcellaCarlton 5 years ago

    NO, I HAD NEVER HEARD OF IT. SCARY AND NIGHTMARISH.

  • anonymous 5 years ago

    Really fascinated by this lens! Have never heard of anything like this before!

  • Tony Payne 5 years ago from Southampton, UK

    I had never heard of this before. It's just more proof that we are meddling with things we shouldn't be.

  • sbilden78 5 years ago

    I had never heard of this. I can't believe this is going on right now and can't be stopped. It's horrible.

  • pheonix76 5 years ago from WNY

    I had never heard of this before. Quite disturbing.

  • Aneera 5 years ago

    I saw the movie but I had no idea! :O

  • Virginia Allain 5 years ago from Central Florida

    I guess I missed the reporting on this tragedy. Thank you for informing me of it.

  • Mishael A Witty 5 years ago

    Nope. I'd never heard of this town, even though I have seen the movie.

  • anonymous 5 years ago

    Wow ... I can't believe I've never heard about this incident. Your lens was extremely informative and I loved how you buffered your text with media clips and external sources. Such a sad thing ... thanks for bringing awareness!

  • sherridan 5 years ago

    I had never heard of it - how amazing that nothing can be done in this day and age. What a catastrophe!

  • heehaw lm 5 years ago

    nope , i knew nothin about it until now.

  • Joanie Ruppel 5 years ago from Keller, Texas

    I was unaware of these facts.

  • PamelaU 5 years ago

    No idea - it's a real shocker.

  • anonymous 5 years ago

    ...heartbreaking...

  • DecoratingMom411 5 years ago

    No, i didn't knew nothing about this... awful!

  • miaponzo 5 years ago

    This is the first time that I heard about this ... shocking!!!

  • miaponzo 5 years ago

    This is the first time that I heard about this ... shocking!!!

  • anonymous 5 years ago

    No I didn't know about this

  • yayas 5 years ago

    I think I may have heard a little about fire burning in one of the mines, but I had no idea how devastating the Centralia Mine Fire really was. You're right that it is a real life horror story. I cannot imagine being faced with such a devastating situation.

  • anonymous 5 years ago

    Very important for me as a parent to know about.

  • livinglargeandh 5 years ago

    No. Very interesting

  • AlexTedford 5 years ago

    Very said story. Shockingly, I've never known anything about it...

  • esvoytko lm 5 years ago

    I'm embarassed to say I did not know. I even played the Silent Hill video game when I was a kid.

  • anonymous 5 years ago

    I knew nothing about it.

  • Apalmer001 LM 5 years ago

    No, I didn't know about it. Sad story.

  • MartieG aka 'survivoryea' 5 years ago from Jersey Shore

    No, I didn't know such a tragedy was going on - it's terrible......thanks for the informative lens.

  • E L Seaton 5 years ago from Virginia

    Not a peep, not a note, not a blessed thing did I know or suspect could actually be true.

  • webstatsart 5 years ago

    i really did not, thanks for letting everyone know

  • EEWorkouts 5 years ago

    I didn't know. Nice lens!

  • LissaKlar LM 5 years ago

    I can't believe I didn't know about this and I live in PA. This is awful.

  • sheilamarie78 5 years ago

    No. How tragic!

  • Sunflower Susan 5 years ago

    I didn't know. I went off to do some reading and found the residents who are left are being evicted against their will, even though the fire is not even in the town and the town itself is not suffering the effects seen where the fire is burning. Follow the money.

  • Wednesday-Elf 5 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

    I had no idea -- and I've driven through PA many times since 1962, visiting relatives in upstate NY! Terrible for the (former) residents of Centralia & nearby Byrnesville to have their lives totally disrupted by this, not to mention the health issues.

  • dok300 5 years ago

    I was told but laughed it off i actually didn't thinkk it possible!

  • RhondaSueDavis 5 years ago

    no, and my roots are in PA, so this caught my eye. What can be done about this? Seems like such a waste and a huge environmental impact. Would be tough to have lost a home this way and to have to live with this in your area without means to move away.

  • KatBar 6 years ago

    That is so tragic. Those poor people.

  • Spook LM 6 years ago

    I had never heard about it to be quite honest.

  • anonymous 6 years ago

    hhm nice information. natural disaster.

  • TeacherSerenia 6 years ago

    No I did not know anything about Centralia. I must also say the movie trailer looks like a horror story - not my cup of tea.

  • AllyVuitton 6 years ago

    No, but I'm just an ignorant person!

  • anonymous 6 years ago

    No,how sad!

  • mom-247 6 years ago

    No, but it is utterly fascinating!

  • grannysage 6 years ago

    No, but I grew up in a mining area and I would hate to see something like that happen there.

  • dannystaple 6 years ago

    Never heard of it - it is both amazing and terrifying. Britain is generally immune to natural disasters like Volcanos and earthquakes by not being on any very active fault lines. However, we do have a large amount of coal and now inactive mines - so this is not unthinkable.

  • anonymous 6 years ago

    I did not.

  • Sami4u LM 6 years ago

    Hi,

    Never heard of this before.

  • sheriangell 7 years ago

    I had no idea. It's mind boggling to think this can happen and not be touted in main stream media, but topics like American Idol are considered newsworthy and paraded about daily.

  • Mickie Goad 7 years ago

    No, I never knew about Centralia.

  • Cynthia Arre 7 years ago from Quezon City

    I had no idea such a town stuck in this horrific condition existed! Oh my gosh!

  • dustytoes 7 years ago

    I sure didn't! What a frightening story, I can't imagine losing my entire town!

  • bragova 7 years ago

    No, I had never heard about this! What a strange and awful story. Thank you for your comment on my photography lens! I made it before the photographyvicky stuff, and have never updated it. There just aren't enough hours in the day...

  • StephanieB-Writer 8 years ago

    Thats crazy! I had no idea about this place. You would think with all the global warming freak out someone would have mentioned this. How awful for the people that lived there.

  • FunGifts4All 8 years ago

    I never new about this until I read your lens. This is tragic.

  • CXpressions LM 8 years ago

    never heard about it before now... very interesting. makes me wonder what other things exist in the US that I am unaware of.

  • Sandy Mertens 8 years ago from Frozen Tundra

    This is the first time I heard of it.

  • Wendy Henderson 8 years ago from PA

    I had no idea.

  • tdove 8 years ago

    No I didn't know. Sort of makes me want to visit and check it out.

  • Debbie 8 years ago from England

    I had no idea!

  • tonyab lm 8 years ago

    No! It's incredible, I've never heard of anything like it.

  • Merre 8 years ago

    I had no idea this was going on and I'm from Pennsylvania (Western Pa).

  • SunilWWW 8 years ago

    What a tragedy...reminded me of Bhopal gas tragedy in India that left thousands dead overnight...

  • Jean DAndrea 8 years ago from Victoria, Australia

    No, I didn't know about it, but I'm in Australia, so it's probably never mentioned here, this long after it started.

  • SixB 8 years ago

    No I didn't know of this town until I read your lens. Great job! It is an absolutely fascinating read. It is also rather scary to think this fire was started because a vein of coal too close to the surface ignited. Makes me wonder if that could happen naturally, say by brush fire, in dozens of other places similarly endowed with coal.

Summary and More Questions

Until the early 1970s or early 80s, the underground mine fire was considered an inconvenience. It was not until a 12 year boy, playing in the backyard, fell through a 150 foot sink hole created by the fire that the media began paying attention and the government offered to relocate people and the residents fled. (Luckily, the boy was pulled out by his cousin). But was "danger" what caused the government to finally intervene and relocate people?

According to the former towns' mayor, Lamar Mervine, the youngster sank into a former outhouse hole and the media exaggerated it. He feels the government is responsible for the mass exodus from Centralia and Byrnsville and the reason is that they want the land.

The land in Centralia is extremely valuable because of its anthracite coal. Anthracite is a rare and slow burning hard coal. The reserves under Centralia make up a little less than two percent of the United States reserves and is estimated to be worth tens of millions of dollars. In an article by Jason Zasky, called "The Unforgettable Fire: Centalia, PA's Eternal Flame," he writes that the U.S. government has no incentive to put out the fire until all residents of Centralia are gone and mining can begin.

The former town's mayor says: "The people couldn't move away fast enough - at least by the estimation of the state's politicians. "When they first started to move out the governor came to town and told us, 'anybody who wants to move, we'll buy the home-no pressure'," says Mervine. "But then they declared eminent domain [the right of the government to appropriate private property for public use] and said ALL the homes were in the 'impact zone.' "*

Because Centralia is the only municipality within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that actually owned its mineral rights, many believe that the state's eminent domain claim is a ploy to gain the mineral rights to the anthracite coal beneath the borough.

The zip code for Centralia has been revoked and most maps no longer show any existence of the town. In Ashland, which is 1.6 miles away, the highway detours. No reason is posted and rarely does anyone question it.

*The Unforgettable Fire: Centalia, PA's Eternal Flame

 Return to Top 

Centralia Vault

Vault in Centralia, PA to Be Opened in 2016

The photographers "Lyndi & Jason" wrote: "An underground mine fire has been burning in Centralia since 1962. This is the town's time capsule vault to be opened in 2016. We're expecting them to find... ashes?"

Unfortunately, they may have a point.

Flickr Photograph © 2001 "Centralia Vault" by Lyndi&Jason
Some Rights Reserved

Centralia Update

August 26, 2010

WGRC Radio in Pennsylvania has reported the following:

"In Columbia County a Judge has ruled that Centralia landowners can keep the rights to coal under their properties in case there is any future mining there. But the government still plans to move forward with buyouts of the few remaining homes in the borough plagued by an underground mine fire. The Press Enterprise reports, Columbia County Judge Thomas James says owners can have the rights to coal but along with coal rights comes the responsibility for getting out of there. The recent issue was whether the government takeover of the homes also includes "subsurface" or mineral rights. James will preside over a jury trial scheduled to begin in two weeks to set property values on remaining homes and parcels owned by Helen Hynoski; her son Steve and wife Bonnie Hynoski; Carl and Helen Womer; and late Centralia Mayor Lamar Mervine Jr. and wife Lana. But that won't be the last legal chapter in Centralia's long fight for survival since condemnation declarations were made in Harrisburg on January 28th, 1993. Harrisburg attorney Bart Holmes and Don Bailey, representing the Centralians' say the property owners plan to appeal after the trial, and take the matter to a higher court."

Jim Diehl (WGRC)

Other news:

Centralia's former mayor, Lamar Mervine, died on New Year's Day 2010.

Flickr Photograph © 2007 "Centralia, PA" by divinemisscopa
The photographer describes this image as "an eerie tombstone as found in St. Ignatius Cemetary, in Centralia, PA" Some Rights Reserved

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      Marisa Horn 3 years ago from Rintown Pa

      Driving through the other day I was surprised how beautifully 'Mother Nature' has reclaimed the land. It is green and filled with life not seen in that area for a long long time.

    • Zdiddle profile image

      Zdiddle 3 years ago

      @Einar A: What area do you live in?

    • Zdiddle profile image

      Zdiddle 3 years ago

      Since all the houses have been knocked down, it's sort of underwhelming if you visit. I went with a friend and just couldn't help thinking that only in America would a bunch of idiots drive all the way out to stand on potentially collapsible ground and breath in noxious fumes just to get a picture of a tiny TINY wisp of smoke. Did I still go? You bet your ass I went!

    • NibsyNell profile image

      NibsyNell 4 years ago

      So sad but a fascinating read all the same!

    • leatherwooddesign profile image

      Marisa Horn 4 years ago from Rintown Pa

      @TonyPayne: The vien of coal runs for miles and goes through other towns. All the mining done from other mines mines makes it impossible to close off the fire. I always wonder what the chances are that the fire is going to hit another town. That seems more feasable than it being stopped. Sometimes at night you can see the glow of the fire from quite far away but the biggest thing other than the abandonment is the smoke rising from the cracked ground. Nothing much is being done about Centralia anymore. Actually it has been years since much was done.

    • leatherwooddesign profile image

      Marisa Horn 4 years ago from Rintown Pa

      Great lens you covered it quite well.

    • karen-stephens profile image

      karen-stephens 4 years ago

      sad...Thanks for sharing.. Angel Blessings! xxo

    • CastleRoyLisa profile image

      Lisa 4 years ago from Rhode Island

      I have heard of this before great lens it is very sad

    • Aquavel profile image
      Author

      Aquavel 4 years ago

      @Cinnamonbite: I hope you stop by and let us know about your visit.

    • Cinnamonbite profile image

      Cinnamonbite 4 years ago

      Hopefully they don't chase tourists out if there. I'm going tomorrow. I don't know when I first read about Centralia. Sometime in the 70s, but education was better then. Everyone knew about the underground fire, still burning.

    • Pip Gerard profile image

      Pip Gerard 5 years ago

      so fascinating. Never heard of it before. I do think it probably has to do mostly with the worth of the coal... that wouldn't surprise me at all.

    • profile image

      trendydad 5 years ago

      wow great story, but sad nice lens

    • Rangoon House profile image

      AJ 5 years ago from Australia

      What a sad story. The centennial vault will tell some further sad stories, but how fascinating it would be at it's opening in 2016. Blessings.

    • profile image

      MarcellaCarlton 5 years ago

      HOW HORRIBLE!

    • wrapitup4me profile image

      wrapitup4me 5 years ago

      I never heard of this. I am always shocked anew when I hear about things like this. What a cynical world we live in!

    • profile image

      MissChassit 5 years ago

      This was an excellent lens. I enjoyed it a lot - thank you for making it.

    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 5 years ago from USA

      This is so sad. It's hard to believe that no one has been able to come up with a solution.

    • Aquavel profile image
      Author

      Aquavel 5 years ago

      @sudokunut: The underground mine fire is vast and complex, there are far too many fissures in the rocks and vents, as you've indicated. The source of oxygen is seemingly everywhere. Smithsonian Magazine says that "microscopic spaces between grains of dirt" and holes in the mud are giving the fire more air and the subsidence overhead that occurs is constantly fanning the fire. Way out of control. I wonder if they've called in experts and think tanks and if there are any possible solutions we are not aware of. Last I checked the government still was not doing anything. I'll do some more research and see if that has changed.

    • sudokunut profile image

      Mark Falco 5 years ago from Reno, Nevada

      I had pretty much the same thought as Poddys....why don't they cut the oxygen source? I'm assuming it's too hazardous or there are so many cracks and vents now it's just not feasible. Really interesting lens. I had no idea this existed.

    • profile image

      general-mando 5 years ago

      some good stuff here !

      I like it !

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 5 years ago from Southampton, UK

      All fires need oxygen to keep burning. It's a shame that they can't identify the source of the air source for the fire, and cut it off. If they could block the source, combined with pumping in CO2, I would have thought there might be a way to put the fire out. I had never heard of this before, it's amazing. Excellent lens and a story well told, blessed.

    • pinkrenegade lm profile image

      pinkrenegade lm 5 years ago

      Nice lens. I think you've done a great job in sharing the story. Very interesting read. Thanks!

    • profile image

      djlmc0085 5 years ago

      Wow, I never heard of this actually happening. I'm a big fan of the Silent Hill movie. I'm glad I ran into this story. It just shows how long the government has been throwing the people to the side. Nothing is ever serious enough for them unless it pertains to them. Thank you for sharing this. It's sad to hear what's happening and no one really knows. And it's sad what happened in this town. Poor souls.

    • nuestraherencia profile image

      nuestraherencia 5 years ago

      Oh, I read about this somewhat a few years back...it is truly sad and amazing. Unfortunately, most think that this will never happen in their town. Thanks for spreading the word!

    • Ribolov LM profile image

      Ribolov LM 5 years ago

      NIce lens, nice story!

    • Aquavel profile image
      Author

      Aquavel 5 years ago

      @chezchazz: Thanks Chaz! Now that you mention it, I remember the smell of sulphur in towns near where I grew up in Western Pennsylvania. Thanks for the angel dust!

    • Aquavel profile image
      Author

      Aquavel 5 years ago

      @WindyWintersHubs: Thank you for your comments, concern, and blessing!

    • WindyWintersHubs profile image

      WindyWintersHubs 5 years ago from Vancouver Island, BC

      Congrats on your Purple Star and for sharing this amazing story. It's so sad that it hasn't been stopped. Blessed!

    • profile image

      seosri417 5 years ago

      good lens

    • profile image

      seosri417 5 years ago

      good one...

    • pheonix76 profile image

      pheonix76 5 years ago from WNY

      This is an issue we should all be aware of -- I have never heard of this before. Thanks for sharing this information, it's quite sad to think of such a thing going on! Lets hope we can one day soon find a solution for this disaster.

    • floppypoppygift1 profile image

      floppypoppygift1 5 years ago

      Great lens-very interesting! Super mind-boggling!

    • gypsyman27 lm profile image

      gypsyman27 lm 5 years ago

      This is a very interesting piece and I appreciate reading this page. It goes to show that our desire to use coal for fuel overrides our desire to keep our planet safe. I think this could have been foreseen and steps could have been taken to avoid this sort of thing at all costs. Thanks for bringing us this information. See you around the galaxy...

    • profile image

      Skylermeyer2012 5 years ago

      That's really a bizzarre story ever! It's really alarming to think that fire or lava underneath the ground will goes up into the land surface.. Hope It will happen.. Thanks for telling this terrible story!..

    • Mishael A Witty profile image

      Mishael A Witty 5 years ago

      Great lens, and a fascinating story. Thank you for sharing!

    • sherridan profile image

      sherridan 5 years ago

      Shocking and fascinating! One of my favourite lenses ever!

    • Valerie Bloom profile image

      Valerie Bloom 5 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      Very well written, moving lens. Thank you for writing about this.

    • heehaw lm profile image

      heehaw lm 5 years ago

      great lens , full of info.

    • heehaw lm profile image

      heehaw lm 5 years ago

      great lens , full of info.

    • Brandi Bush profile image

      Brandi 5 years ago from Maryland

      I've been here before, but I'm so fascinated by this story...I had to return and give you a SquidAngel blessing now that I have my wings! :)

    • JoanieMRuppel54 profile image

      Joanie Ruppel 5 years ago from Keller, Texas

      Intriguing, thanks for making us aware.

    • profile image

      Stinkerbelle 5 years ago

      I never had heard of this before that was an incredible lens great job

    • PamelaU profile image

      PamelaU 5 years ago

      Unbelievable.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      thank you for sharing... i hope people will be responsible of their acts...

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I just blessed this excellence in January, so just returning to congratulate you on Squidoo front page honors!

    • WilliamPower profile image

      WilliamPower 5 years ago

      Really good lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I knew I'd like this article before I started reading it. *blessed by a squid angel*

    • profile image

      PecjakJN 5 years ago

      Great lens

    • profile image

      Khaleeka 5 years ago

      A great lens! I had heard about this before, but only in a one-page summary. Blessings!

    • lunagaze profile image

      lunagaze 5 years ago

      this is a great lens though its such a sad and terrifying story

    • AlexTedford profile image

      AlexTedford 5 years ago

      very nice, attractive lens. Thank for sharing!

    • jordanmilesbask profile image

      jordanmilesbask 5 years ago

      Such an interesting lens..thanks for sharing it.

    • wheresthekarma profile image

      wheresthekarma 5 years ago

      Super interesting lens! I had no idea about this! wow thank you for educating us all on this neverending disaster!

    • profile image

      JZinoBodyArt 5 years ago

      I live in NJ so I've heard stories about Centralia before. However, I've never heard the political end of things. I can't say I'm surprised that there are potentially hidden motives.

    • Blackspaniel1 profile image

      Blackspaniel1 5 years ago

      Nice lens

    • CruiseReady profile image

      CruiseReady 5 years ago from East Central Florida

      This is an amazing story ... I knew part of it, but not everything you have told here.

    • Einar A profile image

      Einar A 5 years ago

      Fascinating story--and what a lot of trouble this fire has caused for the residents and former residents of that area. There's am underground coal seam fire in my area which started in a mine and has been burning constantly since 1910! Every winter you can see spots where the snow is melted off the hillsides because of the heat being released, and several years ago, a forest fire which destroyed 30 homes was started by the hot gasses being released in one area.

    • fugeecat lm profile image

      fugeecat lm 5 years ago

      Wow, I didn't know about this. It's a really sad story.

    • esvoytko lm profile image

      esvoytko lm 5 years ago

      Thanks for making this lens. I'm glad I know about this now.

    • profile image

      profundus 5 years ago

      Just read your Centralia lens & wondered if you would like to put a condensed version, a photo & a link to this lens up on my site? Really fascinating story. If you don't have time I could do it for you.

      I'm from NZ we had a mining disaster recently where 29 miners were killed.

      Here is a link to that disaster: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id...

      objectid=10689823

      I'm giving you a like for providing such detailed information on such an interesting event.

      Nice Job!

    • LouiseKirkpatrick profile image

      LouiseKirkpatrick 5 years ago from Berkshire, United Kingdom

      I'm from the UK so it's not surprising that I'd not heard of this - but I didn't even know that there was such a thing as underground mine fires. My grandfather and uncles were coal miners in Wales so I knew that mines were incredibly dangerous places, but I hadn't realised about the fire hazards. It's just awful in every way imaginable :( You have my SquidAngel blessing for a truly interesting lens.

    • TheGourmetCoffe profile image

      TheGourmetCoffe 5 years ago

      What a tragic story! Amazing this is true, must be quite an ordeal for the communities nearby.

    • profile image

      jimmyworldstar 5 years ago

      You've got a really detailed lens. If I were one of the few remaining residents still in the area, I'd just leave. You never know when the whole place will just blow up. It seems like this could've been avoided if only careless mistakes weren't made.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Returning with an angel blessing on this excellence.

    • Aquavel profile image
      Author

      Aquavel 5 years ago

      @girlfriendfactory: When I read about Centralia I was horrified. I grew up in the same state (hours away) and yet I had never heard of this before! My dad was the coal business too. ~ I wrote this lens out of concern. I never expected to get a purple star. Thank you so much!!! And pray tell, what is "Flyby Winging?" You must be a Squid Archangel spreading fairy dust and breathing new life into everything you touch! Thank you dear Angel for your all your Gifts!!!

    • WaynesWorld LM profile image

      WaynesWorld LM 5 years ago

      Just like girlfriendfactory said below, "You have done such a beautiful job telling this story to the world..." Thanks for showing a great lens.

    • girlfriendfactory profile image

      girlfriendfactory 5 years ago

      I was so glad to be able to gift you with your purple star and now I am in a position to be able to give you a Flyby Winging for this terrific lens! You have done such a beautiful job telling this story to the world, my dear! :) ~Ren

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 5 years ago

      What a sad story. I have friends in Clearfield, which isn't too far away.

    • profile image

      lftypjk900 5 years ago

      great lens about the sad history of a pennsylvania town

    • David Stone1 profile image

      David Stone 5 years ago from New York City

      A fascinating story, well written.

    • thesuccess2 profile image

      thesuccess2 5 years ago

      Angel Blessings for this slow-burning lens

    • theinquirer2 profile image

      theinquirer2 5 years ago

      Coal fires like that are terrible

    • wolfie10 profile image

      wolfie10 5 years ago

      unreal. what a story. thanks

    • profile image

      Obscure_Treasures 5 years ago

      This lens Real Life Horror Story: Centralia, PA and the story is really scary..........good jobe. Nice lens.

    • EEWorkouts profile image

      EEWorkouts 5 years ago

      Great topic. I love finding something new.

    • Rhidawn profile image

      Rhidawn 5 years ago

      Great lens! Very well put together. I think I heard about it before but I didn't know all the details

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      I'd heard this story before - quite terrifying and sad. Blessed by a SquidAngel.

    • LissaKlar LM profile image

      LissaKlar LM 5 years ago

      Blessed and added to the plexo on this lens: http://www.squidoo.com/the-squidangel-letter-c-que... -- check it out!

    • LissaKlar LM profile image

      LissaKlar LM 5 years ago

      This is a very powerful lens. Thanks for writing it. You sure deserved your purple star.

    • Sunflower Susan profile image

      Sunflower Susan 5 years ago

      Great job. Thanks for letting us know about this.

    • chezchazz profile image

      Chazz 5 years ago from New York

      You did a wonderful job spreading the word about Centralia. I remember visiting relatives near Scranton PA and there was sometimes a horrible smell of sulphur in the air. My aunt told me it was the "coal pits." Strange I never heard about Centralia until now though. Hope my sprinkling of angel dust helps bring this lens even more well-deserved attention. (This page has also been added to "Wing-ing it on Squidoo," our tribute to some of the best lenses we've found since donning our wings.)

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image

      Wednesday-Elf 5 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      Wow, I'm originally from western New York State and have driven through Pennsylvania's Harrisburg area many times. Can't believe I got that close to Centralia and never knew about this. Your review of the situation there is very informative. Wonder if it will ever be resolved.

    • profile image

      jeff57 5 years ago

      This is such a terrible tragedy. I tend to think the government wants the coal, but after this many years of the underground fire burning out of control, I wonder how they could stop it even if they truly tried. It's frightening to think about this. Interesting lens!

    • christopherlee lm profile image

      christopherlee lm 6 years ago

      Nice Len thanks for sharing.

    • lawpost profile image

      lawpost 6 years ago

      The stars aligned for this one: poorly placed trash fire, coal near the surface, particular grade of coal that burns extremely hot and that is difficult to extinguish, seemingly endles supply of fuel for the fire. What a tragedy for the people of this town. Great Hub.

    • profile image

      promotional-coupons-codes 6 years ago

      Great lens to share.

    • mythphile profile image

      Ellen Brundige 6 years ago from California

      Fantastic lens on an incredible story everyone should know. P.S. Check the YouTube vids -- the module is now the width of a Squidoo column, so the spacer you were using has pushed it down leaving a chunk o' white space.

    • profile image

      DaveHiggsVis 6 years ago

      Killer lens!

    • VarietyWriter2 profile image

      VarietyWriter2 6 years ago

      Very interesting story/lens. Well done. Congrats on your purple star too. SquidAngel blessings for this lens :)

    • kguru1979 lm profile image

      kguru1979 lm 6 years ago

      Beautiful pictures ... nicely made...!

    • BlogsWriter profile image

      BlogsWriter 6 years ago

      Surely there ought to be some way of extinguishing the fire ???

    • BlueStarling profile image

      BlueStarling 6 years ago

      Interesting lens about an important and sad subject.

    • Spook LM profile image

      Spook LM 6 years ago

      Fascinating and sad. I'm inclined to believe somebody wants the coal, but where will the miners then live? Blessed by an Angel.

    • profile image

      tampaduilawyer 6 years ago

      @Ramkitten2000: I agree this is fascinating and well written

    • profile image

      AllyVuitton 6 years ago

      The real life horror story. I knew my brother would love it, so I braced myself the most horrific thing in my life! Now I'm that little bit less ignorant!

    • CoalMiningAppal profile image

      CoalMiningAppal 6 years ago

      Love! Love! Love the article. I featured and linked to it from coalminingappalachia. I hope this is okay with you. If not let me know and I'll remove the page linking to it.

      I'd Bless it if I could. (O;

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      It is a very interesting lens. I did not know their was an actually silent hill. great job.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      What an interesting,but sad lens.

    • mom-247 profile image

      mom-247 6 years ago

      This was such an interesting lens. I also showed it to my nine year old daughter who now wants to do a school project on it! Thanks

    • profile image

      grannysage 6 years ago

      Very informative and well done lens. I like how you gave credit for each photo and cited your sources. That shouldn't be such a kudo but it is amazing how many lensmaster don't. I need to come back and watch some of the videos when my husband isn't sleeping.