Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Town Ablaze: Centralia, Pennsylvania [for all you Silent Hill fans out there]

Hidden in the depths of Pennsylvania’s wilderness lies an unspoken town; the near ghost town of Centralia, Pennsylvania. Once a thriving coal-mining town, Centralia’s population has dwindled down over the years from almost 3,000 people in the early 1960’s to a present day population of about 10 people. Years ago, Centralia was your ordinary small town with a main street, public school system and town government. More recently however, Centralia has been plagued with the very same element that allowed human life to thrive thousands of years ago: the element of fire.

The blaze began at the town dump, which ignited an open coal seam. Since much of the underlying ground is composited of natural coal, the fire quickly spread and before the town knew it, nearly all of the underlying soil was smoldering and smoking. After a valiant effort to silence the flames, officials determined that the fire was unstoppable by their account. Since then, a smoldering landscape has damned the Pennsylvania town with toxic fumes, dangerous sinkholes, and an underground fire that continues to burn to this day, over 50 years later. Such a catastrophic event even gave rise to the 2001 scary movie titled Silent Hill, which depicts the town as being haunted and in West Virginia, rather than Pennsylvania.

Just to be clear, the underground fire is much more a smolder than an actually fire with flames; much like the coals that burn underneath campfires. These types of fires are just as dangerous as blazing fires because they release gasses that are extremely toxic to breathe. They are also misleading in their underground disguise and as previously stated they are seemingly impossible to put out. In fact, some places are too hot that standing in one location for too long could melt the soles of your shoes.

If one were to venture into Columbia County, Pennsylvania, they would run into signs that border Centralia, warning visitors of the dangerous landslides, sinkholes, and toxic fumes that seep out through the ground cracks. For some unknown reason (and yes, that is sarcasm) these signs seem to attract scientists from all over the United States and well beyond to study the long-lasting fire and its environmental consequences. From these studies and data, we can learn about the dangers of coal mining and better yet, dumping on top of soil rich in coal. This is one of the few locations where I would advise you to observe from a safe distance—perhaps with the security of being behind a computer monitor. Toxic smoke and sinkholes are not to be messed with.

Photo Credit:
timid-wolf, Deviant Art

1. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2013/01/pictures/130108-centralia-mine-fire/
2. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012-05-25/fire-still-burns-in-centralia/55213824/1
3. http://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/eco-tourism/photos/12-us-places-where-your-visit-could-double-the-population/centralia-pa
4. http://www.centraliapa.com/
5. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/25/centralia-pennsylvania-fire_n_1546552.html
6. http://www.wgal.com/-/9361174/7635056/-/abcq2kz/-/index.html

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