Oil & Gas - HSE - Mining

Centralia: The story of a real-life Silent Hill

Written by: Fleming. Team

Centralia, Pennsylvania was once famous for its large coal deposits and mining business. Now it is a ghost town with less than 10 residents that refuse to leave and a fire that has been continuously burning for more than 50 years.

After the construction of a railroad, large coal deposits in the area became a big asset and livelihood opportunity. Soon, in 1856, the two first mines opened. More and more people settled in the area. Roads and taverns were built and the railroad transported the coal from the valley. The city, called Bull's Head at that time, was developing quickly. According to Federal census records, the town of Centralia came to its maximum population of 2,761 in the year 1890.

Historical events like World War I and the Wall Street stock market crash in 1929 affected coal production and mines were slowly reducing their production, some even closing down. However, bootleg miners were still entering them, using techniques that were not safe. The city council made efforts to seal the mines and gain the sole rights to the anthracite coal beneath the borough. This is the origin of many conspiracy theories on the cause of the fire.

A landfill close to the abandoned mine pit was “cleaned” regularly by setting it on fire and leaving it to burn for some time. However, on May 27, 1962, the fire was not fully extinguished. An unsealed crack in the ground allowed the fire to enter the labyrinth of abandoned coal veins beneath Centralia. Because of the scale, conditions (anthracite coal burns slow and steady) and failed attempts to put it out, people soon realised that the fire would burn for a long time. Despite 40 million dollars spent by the government, no method worked. And despite threats like dangerous gases, harmful carbon monoxide fumes, smoke and cracked holes around the city, people still continued to live there.

Only after an incident when a hole in the ground almost swallowed a young boy, the area was declared “municipalis non grata” and the houses were slowly abandoned, demolished or burned, and citizens relocated. Compared to the previously mentioned statistics from 1890, only 7 people were residing in Centralia in 2015. The city was stripped of its ZIP code; not one school, post office or road remains in service. The only way to enter the city is on foot and at your own risk. The fire even continued to extend to the town of Byrnesville and as of 1996, it has been abandoned as well.

This subterranean fire keeps burning to this day and may continue to do so for 250 years.

According to the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE), Abandoned Mine Land Inventory System (AMLIS), in 2013 there were 98 underground mine fires in 9 states of the US. And this is considered to be just an underestimation.

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