Hometown Tales Podcast

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Centralia, PA - Town on Fire

Just a couple of hours drive from NJ (west on I-80) is a little slice of hell: fire, brimstone, smoke, ruin. Take a moment to create a picture of hell in your head (forget about the bible and all those lost and tormented souls). Now, slap that image down on a map of eastern Pennsylvania and you’ve got a fairly accurate assessment of Centralia, PA.

Centralia is a small town located in Columbia County, the heart of mining country. As legend goes, in May 1962, a fire started in a garbage dump in an abandoned strip mine. Not a problem … until flames reached a large coal vein running under the town. The coal began to burn.

And it hasn’t stopped burning for over 40 years.

The fire crawled along coal-rich deposits below ground, venting poisonous gases up into town, up through streets, basements, yards.
Residents and the government came to realize that the fire was not going to be extinguished, or ever burn itself out. Centralia was declared “municipalis non grata” by the United States. Citizens were relocated, houses were destroyer, a new road was built to detour traffic away from the hot spots … the town was slowly killed. A town of over 500 homes now occupied by a dozen or so recalcitrant residents.

Thinking of taking a stroll around? You’ll think twice when everywhere you’ll see government postings that warn you of toxic gas, underground pockets ready to collapse underneath you, and the ubiquitous references to major injury or death.