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Centralia

Until I read “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson, a wonderful book by the way, I had never heard of Centralia, PA and the fact that a coal mine has been burning underground there since 1962.  I mentioned this to my husband, Paul and he said “it’s been burning there since the early 60s and it could burn for another 250 years.”  So he has been living with this knowledge for many years and just never shared it with me.  He is however, a walking encyclopedia of bits of knowledge. 

This event really got my attention; I had no idea a coal mine could burn endlessly on and on underground or that it had ever happened in the real world.  So today when the weather forecast stated is was to be a warm balmy 60 degrees we were thinking about where to take a day trip and Centralia popped into my mind.  I wanted to see this place with my own eyes!  So we gathered up our collie, Gunnar and off we went.

The fire began in 1962 when the Centralia Borough Council hired members of the volunteer fire department to clean up the area landfill, just as they had done in previous years.  But this year, unlike in previous years, the fire was not completely extinguished.  It is thought that an exposed vein of coal was ignited allowing the fire entry into the labyrinth of coal mines under the town where it became an inferno.

For almost twenty years many attempts were made to put out the fire to no avail.  Then one day in 1981 a 12-year-old boy was playing in his backyard when a hole, approximately 4 ft wide x 150 ft deep, opened up under his feet.  He was saved from being swallowed up by his cousin, who was playing alongside him that day.

At that point the state of Pennsylvania stepped in and condemned the entire town.  Most of its residents were relocated at a cost of $42 million.  Their homes were then demolished.  The few remaining residents fought to keep their homes and were finally allowed to do so.  However, the homes were purchased by the government and when the last of the family leaves the home, it will be demolished as well.

CentraliaCentralia, as photographed in the past with rising smoke and toxic smells.

Finding Centralia today was easy, but I have to say it wasn’t what I expected.  There were no spirals of smoke filling the air as it seeped through the earth as I had seen in so many pictures.  In fact, we didn’t see anything misting up from the ground and caught just one whiff of a sulphur smell as we walked about the area.

We did enjoy walking down the section of route 61 that was closed off due to damage from the mine burning underground.  The town had attempted to repair the road several times, but finally relinquished it to the mine, turning the portion of the road that had been created as a detour into the permanent road. 

The road appeared to have heaved and buckled in several areas and was left with large and deep crevices in some.  But today, no sign of continued action underground.  Above ground this portion of route 61 that was lost to the world seems to have been found by teenagers through the years.  It was covered with graffiti, empty beer cans were hung strategically in a tree near the road and on this day, it was being walked by many other site seers. 

Centralia

Portion of route 61 destroyed by the burning coal mine underground.

Centralia

Beer cans decorating nearby trees.

Other than the few remaining homes, there are only empty roads that have fallen into deep disrepair.  The old home lots are empty and being overgrown by trees and undergrowth.  The sidewalks and driveways remain in some places, but are lost in others.

Centralia

Streets barren of homes.

CentraliaPaul and Gunnar, sign commemorating the site of a church, 

vent pipe in the area the fire first started and headstones from the 1800s.

It was a beautiful day and a nice trip, but I couldn’t help having a sad feeling as we left Centralia.  A town who’s disappearance meant the loss of not simply a structural town, but a place that meant home, family and history to so many.

This post has been shared on the following lovely link parties:  Grand Social  Party in Your PJs  Whimsy Wednesdays  Share Your Cup Thursday  This is How We Roll Thursday  Freedom Fridays  Link Party Palooza  Monday Madness

{ 14 comments }
penpen March 1, 2016, 9:18 am

Your photos and description of Centralia bring up a central tragedy unfolding in other towns and small cities throughout the country. Our grown children and their children will inherit a damaged earth. I suppose our parents also felt they were leaving for us a changed world that was not as safe or stable as the one they knew. But this seems worse.
thanks for sharing your experience and observations.

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Teresa March 1, 2016, 3:00 pm

Thank you for reading and commenting. It seems that often even when we do things with the best of intentions it causes a series of events that are not what we had planned or hoped for.

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Nina Holappa March 1, 2016, 1:15 pm

How tragic for the people who used to live there. Thank you for sharing. You find the most interesting things to write about.

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Teresa March 1, 2016, 3:03 pm

If it does continue to burn there is a second town that it could impact as well. Lets hope that doesn’t happen! Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

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Carol March 1, 2016, 9:59 pm

Wow Teresa this is so interesting! I had no idea there was a place like this. I also want to read that book!

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Teresa March 2, 2016, 7:15 am

Hi Carol, Thank you for reading! I was amazed when I first read about it. Sad, but true. (And the book is great!)

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Beth L. March 3, 2016, 8:24 am

I live about 20 miles from Centralia. It is sad to have watched it over the years. I usually take out of town guests there for them to see it. It is sad!! But also fascinating. Thank you for all the wonderful pictures and helping to spread the word.

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Teresa March 3, 2016, 8:44 pm

It is so sad. But I agree, fascinating too because I had no idea it was possible for a mine to burn like that. You live in a beautiful area!

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Charlene K March 6, 2016, 1:32 pm

I’ve been there and it’s very errie. It’s also sad that what happened there could have been prevented.

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Teresa March 6, 2016, 1:50 pm

I agree, it could have been prevented and that does seem to make it even more tragic.

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Joanne Boulter March 6, 2016, 7:34 pm

Thank you for sharing at SYC! Jo

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Teresa March 7, 2016, 7:35 am

Thank you for hosting!

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Jann Olson March 7, 2016, 6:52 pm

I kind of remember hearing about this sometime. It truly is a tragic situation! Hard to believe that a few people wanted to remain with the town in such disarray. Thanks for sharing with SYC.
hugs,
Jann

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Teresa March 7, 2016, 10:41 pm

Yes, it is tragic. There are a few old homes, but nothing else now. Thank you for stopping by and reading!

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