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After 50 Years, Fire Still Burns Under Pennsylvania Town (Centralia, PA - Ghost Town)
Fort Wayne Journal Gazette ^ | May 25, 2012 | Michael Rubinkam

Posted on 05/26/2012 9:18:07 AM PDT by DogByte6RER

After 50 years, fire still burns under Pa. town

Centralia, PA 2004, Modern Ghost Town at Centralia, PA (A motorist in 2004 drives among the smoldering remains of land near Route 61 in Centralia, Pa. AP file photo)

Fifty years ago Sunday, a fire at the town dump ignited an exposed coal seam, setting off a chain of events that eventually led to the demolition of nearly every building in Centralia — a whole community of 1,400 simply gone.

All these decades later, the Centralia fire still burns. It also maintains its grip on the popular imagination, drawing visitors from around the world who come to gawk at twisted, buckled Route 61, at the sulfurous steam rising intermittently from ground that's warm to the touch, at the empty, lonely streets where nature has reclaimed what coal-industry money once built.

It's a macabre story that has long provided fodder for books, movies and plays — the latest one debuting in March at a theater in New York.

Yet to the handful of residents who still occupy Centralia, who keep their houses tidy and their lawns mowed, this borough in the mountains of northeast Pennsylvania is no sideshow attraction. It's home, and they'd like to keep it that way.

"That's all anybody wanted from day one," said Tom Hynoski, who's among the plaintiffs in a federal civil rights lawsuit aimed at blocking the state of Pennsylvania from evicting them.

Centralia was already a coal-mining town in decline when the fire department set the town's landfill ablaze on May 27, 1962, in an ill-fated attempt to tidy up for Memorial Day.

The fire wound up igniting the coal outcropping and, through the years, spread to the vast network of mines beneath homes and businesses, threatening residents with poisonous gases and dangerous sinkholes.

After a contentious battle about the future of the town, the side that wanted to evacuate won out. By the end of the 1980s, more than 1,000 people had moved and 500 structures demolished under a $42 million federal relocation program.

But some holdouts refused to go — even after their houses were seized through eminent domain in the early 1990s. They said the fire posed little danger to their part of town, accused government officials and mining companies of a plot to grab the rights to billions of dollars' worth of anthracite coal, and vowed to stay put.

After years of letting them be, state officials decided a few years ago to take possession of the homes. The state Department of Community and Economic Development said Friday it's in negotiations with one of the five remaining homeowners; the others are continuing to resist, pleading their case in federal court.

Residents say the state has better things to spend its money on. A handwritten sign along the road blasts Gov. Tom Corbett, the latest chief executive to inherit a mess that goes back decades.

"You and your staff are making budget cuts everywhere," the sign says. "How can you allow (the state) to waste money trying to force these residents out of their homes? These people want to pay their taxes and be left alone and live where they choose!"

Whether it's safe to live there is subject to debate.

Tim Altares, a geologist with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, said that while temperatures in monitoring boreholes are down — possibly indicating the fire has followed the coal seam deeper underground — the blaze still poses a threat because it has the potential to open up new paths for deadly gases to reach the remaining homes.

"It's very difficult to quantify the threat, but the major threat would be infiltration of the fire gases into the confined space of a residential living area. That was true from the very beginning, and will remain true even after the fire moves out of the area," Alteres said.

Nonsense, say residents who point out they've lived for decades without incident.

Carl Womer, 88, whose late wife, Helen, was the leader of a faction that fiercely resisted the government buyout, disagrees the fire poses any threat.

"What mine fire?" Womer asked dismissively as he hosed down his front porch, preparing, he said, for a Memorial Day picnic. "If you go up and see a fire, you come back and tell me."

Author and journalist David DeKok, who's been writing about Centralia for more than 30 years, said that while he believes Womer's house is too close to the fire to safely live there, Hynoski and his neighbors are far enough away.

"I don't think there's any great public safety problem in letting those people stay there," said DeKok, author of "Fire Underground," a book on the town.

Many former residents, meanwhile, prefer to talk about the good times, their nostalgia taking on a decidedly golden hue.

"I loved it. I always liked Centralia from the time I was old enough to understand what it was," said Mary Chapman, 72, who left in 1986 but returns once a month to the social club at the Centralia fire company.

"If you came out of your house and you couldn't get your car started, the neighbor would come out and he'd help you. You didn't even have to ask," Chapman continued. "Of course the neighbors knew your business, but they also were there to help you, too."


TOPICS: Chit/Chat; History; Local News; Miscellaneous; Outdoors; Reference; Society; Weird Stuff
KEYWORDS: abandoned; centralia; coal; coalmine; decay; eminentdomain; fiftyyearslater; fireinthehole; ghosttown; miningtown; modernhistory; modernruins; pennsylvania; route61; structuraldecay; sulfur
Centralia, PA, A local sign warning of the underground fire. The sign no longer stands.

A local sign warning of the underground fire. The sign no longer stands.

Centralia, PA, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church on North Paxton Street, Centralia, PA. The church is on a hillside overlooking Centralia, a town nearly abandoned due to an underground coal seam fire. Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church on North Paxton Street, Centralia, PA. The church is on a hillside overlooking Centralia, a town nearly abandoned due to an underground coal seam fire.

Centralia, PA Route 61, The ruined section of Route 61, Centralia

The ruined section of Route 61, Centralia

1 posted on 05/26/2012 9:18:21 AM PDT by DogByte6RER
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Related YouTube videos about Centralia, PA ...

2009-2011 - Centralia, PA., - Abandoned, on Fire, and still Smoking Centralia, Pa., Trips.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtVHmjNJvk4&feature=player_embedded

The Real Silent Hill - Centralia PA Mine Fire

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=XTDAJMXZQKo


2 posted on 05/26/2012 9:21:58 AM PDT by DogByte6RER ("Loose lips sink ships")
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To: SunkenCiv

ping


3 posted on 05/26/2012 9:25:15 AM PDT by DogByte6RER ("Loose lips sink ships")
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To: DogByte6RER

Great story... I have seen it firsthand. Yes... there is actual steam rising from the ground. My parents were born and raised nearby. The weird part of mining towns, IMHO, is the houses in many areas sink (the mines are underneath). It is not uncommon to see the old mining homes tilt or be sunken several feet. I may be wrong, DogByte... but I thought I was forwarded an article (from a cousin who lives near that town) that the last resident finally left Centralia? Very cool article....


4 posted on 05/26/2012 9:36:52 AM PDT by momtothree
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To: DogByte6RER

How long before the coal fires reach China?


5 posted on 05/26/2012 9:39:54 AM PDT by miele man
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To: DogByte6RER

I wonder where the fire is getting oxygen from.


6 posted on 05/26/2012 9:46:33 AM PDT by ottbmare (The OTTB Mare)
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To: momtothree

Obviously you would know better than me if there are still any remaining residents in Centralia since you have roots to the area. I only quoted the original news article.

I have never been to the area ... but it holds a certain fascination for me. I have visited many “ghost towns” out here in my area of Southern California ... abandoned mining towns, lost towns along the old Route 66, etc.

I also find the whole story of Centralia very ironic; the fire was apparently started by the fire department at the behest of the local city council. This is yet another reminder that government (at all levels) tends to create more problems than it solves.


7 posted on 05/26/2012 9:50:09 AM PDT by DogByte6RER ("Loose lips sink ships")
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To: DogByte6RER

I have some second cousins once removed (second cousins of my father, with whom he kept up) whom I visited in Centralia as a lad before it was evacuated.

It was strange, you kicked a stone and sulphurous steam would come out of the ground. The stone would have sulphur crystals on the underside.


8 posted on 05/26/2012 9:56:36 AM PDT by The_Reader_David (And when they behead your own people in the wars which are to come, then you will know. . .)
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To: momtothree

Here is another weblink of interest re: Centralia PA ...

http://centraliapa.com/

If you scroll down, you can see some pictures from the local cemetery showing some of the tombs and gravestones buckling (as if there are sinkholes developing beneath them?)

I don’t know if this is just from neglect, but it seems plausible that the mines could be underneath areas of the cemetery causing the depressions and sinking of the gravesites.


9 posted on 05/26/2012 10:03:00 AM PDT by DogByte6RER ("Loose lips sink ships")
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To: DogByte6RER

It truly is a wonder in some aspects. I mean it has been burning for years and years. Makes you wonder how it all will end. Many townsfolk predicted (years ago) that it will eventually just swallow the town and open up. As a little kid.. it scared the heck out of you. It held images of what you were told hell looked like... Not to be melodramatic but the town does have a smell to it. Not sulphur... something more earthy.


10 posted on 05/26/2012 10:10:44 AM PDT by momtothree
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To: DogByte6RER

Yikes, the dead will think they’ve gone to the bad place.


11 posted on 05/26/2012 10:14:18 AM PDT by bgill
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Another photo of the abandoned Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in Centralia
12 posted on 05/26/2012 10:15:01 AM PDT by DogByte6RER ("Loose lips sink ships")
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To: DogByte6RER

Back in the day... this whole area was coal mining. A small town nearby is called Girardville (also known as “gun-town” during the day). It was where the Molly Maguires had their issues with the coal mine owners. Hollywood made a movie about it... somewhat accurate but leaves out a lot. Anyway, many of the towns were built literally above the mines and it is not uncommon to be driving around and see a sunken type house. Growing up in the suburbs of D.C., that entire area was fascinating to me as a kid. Where else could you find coal lying around EVERYWHERE. It literally pushes through the soil. Pretty cool stuff. I hope one day you can make a trip and see it!


13 posted on 05/26/2012 10:21:30 AM PDT by momtothree
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To: DogByte6RER

Old graveyards require maintenance, I’ve got three, one active since Reconstruction and two older and inactive. The graves themselves settle, patricularly if there’s no vault. Headstones get tilted due to moisture and drought, plus the freeze thaw cycle works them loose. I’ve accidentally put my foot up to the knee in an old sunken grave before, this one was back in the woods and the road had passed it by, many many decades ago. We’ve got it shaped up now, but it’s not easy to get back in there.

So, I doubt the coal seam fire caused this. It’s simple neglect. Graveyards go down without attention just like everything manmade does.


14 posted on 05/26/2012 10:24:57 AM PDT by RegulatorCountry
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To: DogByte6RER
Residents say the state has better things to spend its money on. A handwritten sign along the road blasts Gov. Tom Corbett, the latest chief executive to inherit a mess that goes back decades.

"You and your staff are making budget cuts everywhere," the sign says. "How can you allow (the state) to waste money trying to force these residents out of their homes? These people want to pay their taxes and be left alone and live where they choose!"

I have to agree but I am sure for different reasons than the town residents.

What business does the state have using taxpayer funds buying dangerous property? What business doe the state have spending taxpayer funds forcing citizens to sell property they do not want to sell?

I agree with the sentiment above the states have precious little money laying around that they can afford to spend it willy-nilly on property that can not be used for any useful purpose. And if they do it would be better to cut taxes so that the people can put those funds to their own purposes.

15 posted on 05/26/2012 10:37:24 AM PDT by Pontiac (The welfare state must fail because it is contrary to human nature and diminishes the human spirit.)
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To: DogByte6RER

Bush’s fault ,, no, wait, ...


16 posted on 05/26/2012 11:02:11 AM PDT by eCSMaster (Conservative patriots, Rise up!)
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To: DogByte6RER
A couple of the smaller stones are tilted a bit (which could just be normal subsidence), but if you look at the bases of the larger monuments, they are still plumb and square (or nearly so).

As an old cemetery hunter, my take is that this was vandalism and has nothing to do with the fire. Note that there's plenty of snow on the ground.

17 posted on 05/26/2012 11:17:21 AM PDT by AnAmericanMother (Ministrix of ye Chasse, TTGS Ladies' Auxiliary (recess appointment))
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To: DogByte6RER

Same article with comments here: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2888253/posts


18 posted on 05/26/2012 12:11:31 PM PDT by Library Lady
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To: DogByte6RER
Sounds like a great opportunity to build an Alternative Energy Power Plant on the site. If heat is being produced, better to tap into it than let is waste away.

We can call the Company Coalyndra.

19 posted on 05/26/2012 12:30:32 PM PDT by Kickass Conservative (Confucius say, short note better than long memory....)
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To: Kickass Conservative

“So, if somebody wants to build a coal plant, they can — it’s just that it will bankrupt them, because they are going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.” - Barack Hussein Obama, January 2008

http://hotair.com/archives/2008/11/02/obama-well-bankrupt-any-new-coal-plants/


20 posted on 05/26/2012 12:39:25 PM PDT by DogByte6RER ("Loose lips sink ships")
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To: DogByte6RER

21 posted on 05/26/2012 12:58:13 PM PDT by 10mm
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To: AnAmericanMother

Most people would be surprised just how many there are, back in the woods, nowhere near a modern road. Southern frontier era families had family graveyards, and those who haven’t died out or moved on still do, those are the three I try to help maintain, they belong to my own family.

Wandering the woods, if you come upon a patch of periwinkle, chances are there’s an old family cemetery. Many are marked with fieldstone set on end. They usually got “lost” due to the Civil War and the aftermath of it, a lot of poverty and dislocation.


22 posted on 05/26/2012 1:02:43 PM PDT by RegulatorCountry
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To: All

Related op-ed posted to FR last year ... this has some great background into the comedy of errors that occurred by both governments and environmental activists after the fire began in 1962.

“Centralia is a metaphor showcasing government failure while exposing environmental activists’ true agenda.

Government’s inability to solve the problem has extended the crisis and escalated the costs. Their best effort is to put up a few warning signs and hope it goes away.

Silence is also deafening from the Green crowd. When confronted with a real environmental disaster their inaction is morally repugnant. Can’t let toxic fumes or scorched earth stop them from their true purpose, fundraising!”

The Best-ever Symbol of Government Incompetence?

American Thinker ^ | May 08, 2011 | Alan M Aszkler

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2716981/posts


23 posted on 05/26/2012 1:28:10 PM PDT by DogByte6RER ("Loose lips sink ships")
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To: DogByte6RER

If I remember correctly, several early attempts were made to put the fire out with no effect whatsoever. There are a lot of air passages in coal seams as well as a limitless supply of methane and other volatile gases to keep it going.

The air is limited and if they ever hit a wide fissure that can suppply lots of air the fires will become quite large as they are now smoldering due to lack of oxygen.


24 posted on 05/26/2012 2:25:06 PM PDT by buffaloguy (uab.)
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To: momtothree
Good afternoon.

Are the mine fires near Scranton and Pittston still burning? It has been a while since I have heard an update.

5.56mm

25 posted on 05/26/2012 2:32:21 PM PDT by M Kehoe
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To: DogByte6RER

26 posted on 05/26/2012 2:42:46 PM PDT by Prospero
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To: RegulatorCountry
I've got family all over NW GA and NE AL, with private graveyards and graveyards attached to churches - some still active, some with no congregation. We joke that our family's old church in Uchee, AL - the last active member died in 1982 - is the only independent Baptist Church in the country with an Episcopalian, two Methodists, and a Catholic (me) on the board!

Our ggg grandfather who was a deacon there must be rolling in his grave out there behind the church if he knows that so many of his descendants have done backslid on him!

Since you maintain a couple of cemeteries, what's the best way to repair a marble stone that has broken? I've seen everything from cement to bathtub caulk to roofing tar . . . .

27 posted on 05/26/2012 2:43:58 PM PDT by AnAmericanMother (Ministrix of ye Chasse, TTGS Ladies' Auxiliary (recess appointment))
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To: M Kehoe

I don’t know about the Scranton and Pittston mines... I do find your last name intriguing.. Any relation to Jack?!!


28 posted on 05/26/2012 2:46:36 PM PDT by momtothree
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To: momtothree
Any relation to Jack?!!

I was curious if you would notice. Yes, my uncle.

5.56mm

29 posted on 05/26/2012 2:53:36 PM PDT by M Kehoe
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To: AnAmericanMother
The best way is to adhere it into place with the least visible thing you can lay hands on that you believe will do the job; there's not a single, standard answer that I'm aware.

If it's a really old, slender slab of marble I'd suggest either tile grout tinted to match or some variety of superglue/gorilla glue sealed with clear caulk after it dries. Caulk isn't too good long term if very much will be exposed to the elements as far as appearance, but it does keep those elements out of the crack, an important consideration if freezing is a concern.

Heavier stuff requires heavier stuff. I've seen cement. I've seen cast iron rods used sort of like dowels, an older professional repair I suspect.

So, the answer is “it depends,” lol. What you're able to work with for reliably adhering it into place, plus a sealant that sits well aesthetically, if your adhesive, cement or what have you isn't effectively sealing the repair in and of itself.

30 posted on 05/26/2012 3:08:45 PM PDT by RegulatorCountry
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To: DogByte6RER

At least they have free Centralia heating there.


31 posted on 05/26/2012 3:10:56 PM PDT by TigersEye (Life is about choices. Your choices. Make good ones.)
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To: AnAmericanMother

After replying I realized that it had never really dawned upon me, that there are a lot of ancestry groups and church committees charged with the same task,and that there would be a consensus of sorts reached over the past decade or two regarding how to go about this.

Here’s a very thorough PDF off of Ancestry.com:

http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~ncomgs/tombstone.pdf

I was pretty close with my ad hoc advice, but they’re recommending a very specific “knife grade” epoxy, it hardens and fills in the damage, especially good for mower damaged corners and such.

Be very careful with Roundup around marble, too. It eats it over time.


32 posted on 05/26/2012 3:43:24 PM PDT by RegulatorCountry
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To: DogByte6RER

I heard the fire was started by local townspeople, probably kids, who used to dump their trash in a pit.


33 posted on 05/26/2012 9:40:47 PM PDT by Amberdawn
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To: DogByte6RER; Ernest_at_the_Beach; Rurudyne; steelyourfaith; Tolerance Sucks Rocks; xcamel; ...

Thanks DogByte6RER. Geothermal energy ping. ;’)


34 posted on 05/26/2012 10:18:29 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (FReepathon 2Q time -- https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/)
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