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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How a Coal Mine Fire Earased a Town

Centralia Pennsylvania is a modern ghost town in the US.  An underground coal mine fire earased the town in a matter of five years.  From 1979 to 1984 nearly all the residents of Centralia vacated the town.    

It is not known for certain how the fire that made Centralia essentially uninhabitable was ignited. One theory asserts that in May 1962, the 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 correctly.  This is one of several conflicting theories.

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, carbon dioxide and a 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.

Very few homes remain standing in Centralia; most of the abandoned buildings have been demolished. At a glance, the area now appears to be a field with many paved streets running through it

Today a few residents remain in Centralia despite the eviction, and are fighting a 1992 eminent domain claim by the state.

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