have followed this path in recent years with little
knowledge of the on going story of this little detour and
the town that no longer is really a town. If you had
disregarded the detour signs and make the right that 61
north takes through Ashland your first clue that something
isn't right would be the abrupt end to route 61 as it once
This road closure seems to be
more than just a little construction up around the bend. At closer
inspection it would seem to be a more permanent close of the road. If
you were to look to your right and follow a small, slightly less engineered
road down and around the closed route 61 it would re-emerge at the beginning
of the story. Centralia.
ruins of Centralia Pennsylvania no longer exists on some
maps. The story began sometime in 1962 along the
outskirts of town when trash was burned in the pit of an
abandoned strip mine, which connected to a coal vein running
near the surface. The burning trash caught the exposed
vein of coal on fire. The fire was thought to be extinguished but it apparently wasn't
when it erupted in the pit a few days later. Again the
fire was doused with water for hours and thought to be out.
But it wasn't.
The coal then began to burn underground. That was in
1962. For the next two decades, workers battled the
fire, flushing the mines with water and fly ash, excavated the burning
material and dug trenches, backfilled, drilling again and again in an
attempt to find the boundaries of the fire and plan to put the fire out or at least contain it.
All efforts failed to do either as government officials
delayed to take any real action to save the village. By the early 1980s
the fire had affected approximately 200 acres and homes had
to be abandoned as carbon monoxide levels reached life
threatening levels. An
engineering study concluded in 1983 that the fire could burn
for another century or even more and "could conceivably
spread over an area of approximately 3,700 acres."
As time passed, each feeble
attempt to do anything to stop the fire or help the
residents of Centralia would cost more and more due to the
fires progression. Over
47 years and 40 million dollars later the fire still burns
through old coal mines and veins under the town and the
surrounding hillsides on several fronts. The fire, smoke, fumes and
toxic gases that came up through the back yards, basements
and streets of Centralia literally ripped the town apart.
of the homes were condemned and residents were relocated
over the years with grants from the
federal government although some die-hards refused to be
bought out and some still remain in the town.
Today Centralia is a
virtual ghost town with only a few
remaining residents. As they continue to live in their
beloved homes now owned by the federal government, people
pass every day along Route 61, most totally unaware of the
history surrounding them and the sad story of Centralia.
shown that if the fire is not contained it will continue to
spread following the rich coal deposits and eventually threaten the
neighboring town of Ashland, less that two miles away.
Many people including former (and current) residents of
Centralia insist that there is more to this story than meets
the eye. Some believe that the rich deposits of coal
beneath the town itself is the reason for the forced
relocation of the towns people and to force the town to go
defunct, giving up its mineral rights. The stories
around what is happening here vary depending on who you talk
to or what you read. What is certain is what has
happened to this small community and the fact that Centralia
as it once was, will never be again.