Centralia's Mine Fire History
- Columbia County, Pennsylvania - The fire was started in a garbage
dump over an open coal seam in May of 1962. The fire was reported and
seemed to be quenched at the time, but actually continued underground.
There are many additional versions of the original cause but the garbage pit and
the date are probably right. First bid to extinguish the fire was $175.
In July of 1962, the Department of
Environmental Resources started to monitor the fire.
Boreholes were drilled to check to extent and the
temperature of the fire. Some thought they also
provided an natural draft which helped combustion. Gas
monitors were also installed in most homes in the area above
the hottest fire (the impact area).
May 22, 1969 the first three families were moved from Centralia. A
trench was dug north of the Odd Fellows Cemetery where fly ash and clay seals
were used in am attempt to put out the fire. According to Tony Gaughan
(quoted in "Slow Burn"), if the trench had been dug in three shifts per day
instead of one and if they had worked through the Labor Day holiday, the fire
would have been contained. He said the project was $50,000 short of
In 1980, the U.S. Bureau of Mines "Red Book" said, "The
Centralia mine fire has not been extinguished and has not been controlled."
In the year twenty-seven more families were moved at a price that was
comparatively less than later buy-outs.
February 14, 1981, the ground collapsed under Todd Domboski. A hole about
4 feet in diameter and roughly 150 feet deep had opened under him. He
clung to exposed tree roots and was pulled to safety by his cousin. The
heat or the carbon monoxide in the breach would have been sufficient to kill him
instantly if he had gone just a little deeper. This incident provoked the first
national media attention.
By 1983, the government said the fire was advancing on three or
four fronts. Proposed trenching of the area might cost as much as $660
million with no guarantee of success. One of the larger trenches would
have bisected the town roughly from east to west. A government buy-out was
proposed instead of the trenching and there was a referendum held. The
homeowners voted to accept the buy-out 345 to 200. Only those whose names
were on the deeds could vote. From 1962 to 1984, $7 million had been
spent. In November of 1983, $42 million was voted for the buy-out.
1983, there was fire under about 350 surface acres. By 1991, this area had
been increased by about three-quarters. Worst case scenario would be about
3700 acres and possibly a hundred years. Finally 26 homes along Route 61
west of town were bought in April of 1991. There were no further plans to
fight the fire. The population of Centralia as of 4/18/97 was 44
people and has dwindled since. There are just a few scattered homes
today remaining in the town along with the borough hall. The Commonwealth
of Pennsylvania owns the remaining homes. The monetary value of each
property is in escrow or tied up in the legal system. Until the remaining
people move, the future of this town is unknown. The State is being very
lenient at this time. The State owns the homes but the remaining people
are still paying the property taxes on the houses.
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Aston, PA 19014