Centralia, Pennsylvania was never a particularly large community, but it was once a lively and industrial place. At its peak the coal mining town was home to 2,761 souls, but today the population of its cemeteries far outnumbers that of its living residents. The series of events which led to the community's demise-- slowly diminishing its numbers to less than a dozen-- began about forty-four years ago.
Soon the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources began monitoring the fire by drilling holes into the earth to determine the extent and temperature of the fire. In retrospect, it was realized that the well-meaning workers may have unwittingly provided the fire with a natural draft by drilling these boreholes, feeding the coal's combustion. As a precaution, the Department also installed gas monitors in many homes within the affected area, but nonetheless many residents complained of symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure.
In 1969-- seven years after the fire was started-- a more involved effort was made to contain the fire using trenches and clay seals, but the attempt was met with failure. In the 1970s, concerns over the severity of the extensive subterranean fire were stirred when a gas station owner noticed that the contents of his underground fuel storage tank seemed hot, so he measured the gasoline's temperature, and found it to be a troubling 180 degrees Fahrenheit.
Numerous attempts were made to extinguish or contain the underground fire over the next two decades. The mines were flushed with water and the burning coal was excavated, but despite the persistence of the workers, their efforts were unsuccessful. The work continued for years at a great expense, with no appreciable progress.
At that point, about seven million dollars had been spent in the firefighting effort. Experts determined that the only option remaining to effectively battle the fire would be a massive trenching operation, at the cost of about $660 million, with no guarantee of success. Left with such limited options, the state of Pennsylvania basically condemned the entire town, and spent $42 million in government funds relocating most of its residents.
The fire still burns today beneath about four hundred acres of surface land, and it's still growing. There is enough coal in the eight-mile vein to feed the fire for up to two hundred and fifty years, but it may burn itself out in as few as one hundred years. A few residents remained in the borough after the buyout, but their numbers have dwindled since then to about a dozen. Most of the unoccupied homes and buildings have been razed, and large portions of the town are being reclaimed by nature, leaving meadows crisscrossed with overgrown asphalt roads and the occasional steaming or smoking hillside.
Story idea suggested by Jeremy Oldham and Brad.