ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Centralia Coal Mine Fire: Real Life Horror Story

Updated on August 30, 2017

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

 Return to Top 

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.

Centralia, 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

 Return to Top 

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?

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


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)