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Infinite fire: the history of the American ghost town, which has been burning for 55 years

In May 2018, 56 years will pass since the beginning of the underground fire in the city of Centralia. During this time the settlement had actually disappeared, but the coals in the abandoned mines under the city still burn and make life in these places impossible. Centrelia became a “ghost” and a source of inspiration for the film version of “Silent Hill.”

In March, the story of the fire in the city was remembered by the writer Paul Cooper (Paul Cooper), which they drew attention to on Twitter.

City in the mines

In the middle of the 19th century, a settlement in Pennsylvania was built around two open mines in which anthracite coal was mined. Initially, the city wanted to name Centerville, but it turned out that the district already has a settlement with that name. To avoid confusion, the settlement turned into Centrelia.

Soon the number of mines increased to five – the tunnels passed in the immediate vicinity of the city. By 1890 there were already almost three thousand people living in the town, most of which were somehow connected with coal mining.

The settlement developed, but in 1929 in the United States there was an exchange crash, which led to the beginning of the Great Depression. Because of this, the Centrelia mine had to be closed for an indefinite period. Some miners continued to mine coal illegally, to somehow feed their families. Over time, the city began to decline.

Fire to the Day of Memory

No one knows exactly how the underground fire began. Supporters of conspiracy theories talked about the plans of the secret government, supporters of religious theories – about the conflict between the authorities and the local church. There were also opinions that the city was on fire because of the unsuccessful launch of fireworks on July 4.

The most plausible theory relates to the celebration of Memorial Day in the United States on May 28, 1962. The same is true of the Department of Environmental Protection. To clean up Centrailia from stench, the city administration hired several firemen: they had to burn the garbage in a landfill located on the ruins of one of the mines. In Pennsylvania, this was illegal, but the authorities wanted to better prepare for the national holiday.

May 27 firefighters did so: set fire to all the garbage to remove the stench. The problems started during the extinguishing – the fire does not fade.

The fire quickly spread through the network of tunnels under the city, and the townspeople could no longer stop it. For about a year the firemen held back the result of their mistake on their own.

Holiday pictures AP

In 1963, the authorities applied for help to the Department of Safety and Health at the mines. They offered to make a trench and fire, but the administration could not cover its cost of 4.5 million dollars. At that time, the whole of Centrail was estimated at $ 500,000. The city was alone with the threat.


Every year the inhabitants understood more clearly that they were living above a big fire. The townspeople complained of headaches and suffocation, vegetables in the kitchen gardens were burning, and heaters in winter were not needed. From the beginning of the 1970s, people began to leave Centrelia gradually.

In 1979, the owner of a local gas station checked the temperature of underground tanks and saw a thermometer 78 degrees. He immediately removed fuel from them and threw out the gas station. Soon it was demolished – this was the first noticeable “victim” of the burning city. Then the asphalt on the highway began to crack, and from the ground periodically appeared geysers.

Holiday pictures Morning Post

In 1981, due to an underground fire, the 12-year-old Todd Dombowski nearly died – in the back yard of the house appeared almost 50-meter funnel, from the fall in which the boy saved his elder brother. Tests near the crater, which turned out to be a collapsed mine, showed a lethal level of carbon monoxide.

The incident attracted the attention of journalists: Centrelia wrote articles and filmed media reports throughout the country. Warning signs appeared throughout the city, and employees of various departments of the United States conducted measurements of temperatures and the level of chemicals. Throughout the city, more than two thousand wells were drilled to reduce pressure.

Because of the evaporation, the settlement was enveloped by a light “haze”.

Over time, everyone realized that the city is doomed. The state authorities offered to buy land and houses from residents, and resettling citizens to another place. By 1992, this process was completed: a thousand people went away from the burning Centrelia, more than 500 homes were demolished.

Todd Dombowski. Holiday pictures AP

Not all of them left their native lands, but the city was almost completely deserted. It remains only the cemetery, several houses and a church, which is practically not affected. In 2002, the US Postal Service took Index from Centrelia. The resettlement cost $ 42 million – almost ten times more than the trenching in the 1960s.

“Silent Hill” in real life

Now the city consists of a cracked highway and scorched earth around. Coal under the ground is still burning: according to Accuweather, it will die out in about 250 years. Until that time, visitors to Centrelia will feel the heat under their feet.

“Ghost Town” has become a popular destination for tourists. They painted almost the entire safe section of the graffiti route. In 2017, a group of volunteers had to travel to Centrailia to clean up the garbage for visitors.

Despite the colorful drawings, most of the city still looks gloomy. Journalist David DeKok, who dedicated dozens of articles to the settlement, noted that every year a place in the state of Pennsylvania is becoming more and more difficult to find out.

You see the road to nowhere. Power lines that stretch along deserted streets. Remains of the former city. The areas left empty after the demolition of houses are now overgrown with trees and grass. I think that in 50 years there will be little evidence that people once lived in Centrailia.

David Decoke

The city remained in pop culture: screenwriter of the adaptation of the video game “Silent Hill” Roger Avery (Roger Avary) admitted that during the creation of the image of the city was inspired by Centrelia

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