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The Smoldering Ruins of Centralia

Article #150 • Written by Alan Bellows

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There is a small town in Pennsylvania called Ashland where Route 61's northbound traffic is temporarily branched onto a short detour. Exactly what the detour is circumventing is not immediately clear to travelers, however few passers-by pay it any mind... a detour is nothing unusual. But anyone who ignores the detour and ventures along the original route 61 highway will soon encounter an abrupt and unexplained road closure. Beyond it lies a town filled with overgrown streets, smoldering earth, and ominous warning signs. It is the remains of the borough of Centralia.

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.

Centralia 1962
Centralia 1962

In 1962, workers set a heap of trash ablaze in an abandoned mine pit which was used as the borough's landfill. The burning of excess trash was a common practice, yet at that particular time and place there existed a dangerous condition: an exposed vein of anthracite coal. The highly flammable mineral was unexpectedly ignited by the trash fire, prompting a quick effort to put it out. The flames on the surface were successfully extinguished, but unbeknownst to the fire fighters, the coal continued to burn underground. Over the following weeks it rapidly migrated into the surrounding coal mines and beneath the town, causing great concern.

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.

After burning beneath the surface for almost twenty years, the fire drew national media attention when the ground crumbled beneath the feet of twelve-year-old Todd Domboski in 1981. The sinkhole--about four feet wide and 150 feet deep--had sufficient heat and carbon monoxide concentration that it would have killed the boy had his cousin had not been there to help pull him to safety. It was not the first nor the last sinkhole caused by the fire, but it was the most sobering.

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.

In its prime, Centralia was a vibrant community with five hotels, seven churches, nineteen general stores, two jewelry stores, and about twenty-six saloons. Today it is a modern ghost town whose guts have been burned out, and whose main path of ingress has been closed and detoured. Residents are expected to return in 2016 to open a time capsule which was buried in the town in 1966, back when the town's future was still somewhat optimistic. Its future now is decidedly more grim... There are currently no further plans to extinguish the fire, and most modern maps no longer show a dot where Centralia once stood.

Article written by Alan Bellows, published on 29 March 2006. Alan is the founder/designer/head writer/managing editor of Damn Interesting.

Podcast sound design by Alan Bellows. Podcast narration by Simon Whistler. Story idea suggested by Jeremy Oldham and Brad.

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Posted 29 March 2006 at 05:57 pm

Moving a community because of some life changing situations are noted elsewhere. As I recall, there is a town in Missouri that had to be abandoned for health reasons.

Secret Ninja
Posted 29 March 2006 at 07:31 pm

It would be funny if the time capsule was all melted and filled with ash...

Posted 29 March 2006 at 07:50 pm

Great post. There are some neat photos of Centralia here. (The town in MO that Chris above mentions was Times Beach.)

Posted 29 March 2006 at 08:16 pm

Here in Oklahoma is a town called Picher. It has mountains of what is called 'chat', the remnants of lead and zinc mining. This chat has blown onto all the property in the area. It is on the superfund list as has been since the beginning.

So the government scraped the topsoil off people's yards and replaced it, many times at a cost higher than the property value, instead of buying the home owners out.
then the wind came along and contaminated the land all over again...

Posted 29 March 2006 at 10:16 pm

It's such a damn interesting story, they're using it (along with the video game) as fodder in a movie:

Posted 29 March 2006 at 10:18 pm

Creepy stories about abandoned mining and lumber towns seem to be the specialty of Frank Peretti, but yeah. Amazing the stuff out there you'd never think of...

Posted 29 March 2006 at 10:38 pm

I was immediately reminded of the movie "Nothing but Trouble" (

As for Silent Hill, never played the game, but heard a lot about it from friends and have seen pictures of it in magazines. The burning coal mine underneath the town would explain why everything's foggy all the time.

Posted 29 March 2006 at 11:39 pm

lol Oax im from oklahoma also. I never heard about Picher though since i live in ok city/norman. What area is Picher in?

Posted 30 March 2006 at 03:41 am

I live in Lancaster, PA, and one day a friend of mine and I decided to take a road trip up there. It's very odd, it's almost a ghost town. We stopped at a few places, and mostly everywhere you go there are small smoke streams leaking out of the ground; grass, pavement, etc. I kinda got the feeling like the ground could just cave in at any second. The entire town just had an erie feel to it.

Posted 30 March 2006 at 04:43 am

I also immediately thought of this movie, and its odd detour..
Haven't seen it in at least a decade, but wasn't it in PA?

another opinion
Posted 30 March 2006 at 05:29 am

thats sure gonna cause a lot of ecological problem if it burns for 250 years.

Scott Bowers
Posted 30 March 2006 at 07:50 am

Great article. I find this kind of thing to be fascinating, in a rather morbid way. I have several urban archeology links bookmarked on my other computer - including an abandoned laboratory from the 1950's (or there abouts), an abandoned insane asylum, and many abandoned factories. I'll post some of the links later on if anyone is interested.

In the mean time, Google "kidd of speed" - the story is a hoax, but it has some great photos that show what the area around Chernobyl looks like today.

Posted 30 March 2006 at 08:46 am

I never understood why anyone would make up a "kiddofspeed" hot-girl-motorbiking-around-chernobyl story, when the truth was.. oh wait, maybe it was a way to sugarcoat the truth. Anyway, here's some more photos, minus the added excitement.
Meanwhile, back in Centralia, where are the daredevil tourists and the vulcanologists?

Posted 30 March 2006 at 09:29 am

"In its prime, Centralia was a vibrant community with five hotels, seven churches, nineteen general stores, two jewelry stores, and about twenty-six saloons."

Number of churches: 7
Number of saloons: 26
Hmmmm... I wonder? Naw.

Posted 30 March 2006 at 02:09 pm

When I was a kid in the '80's I used to travel through the town on my way to an amusement park. It was very eerie seeing the columns of smoke coming out of the ground, knowing what was going on and wondering why anyone would want to live there.

Posted 30 March 2006 at 04:00 pm

Chris said: "Moving a community because of some life changing situations are noted elsewhere. As I recall, there is a town in Missouri that had to be abandoned for health reasons."

Springfield was moved for a similar sort of reason.

another viewpoint
Posted 30 March 2006 at 04:48 pm

...anybody out there remember Love Canal in NY?

It's a shame our government just "doesn't get it"...that sometimes, the most cost effective answer IS the cheapest solution. Once again, our hard earned tax dollars at work. Don't you just love tax season every year?

Posted 30 March 2006 at 04:52 pm

I live a few minutes from Centralia and have seen the smoke. It was a sad occurance that happened there.

Posted 30 March 2006 at 05:41 pm

Great Article, There are some lowish-quality satelite pics at google maps,-76.343307&spn=0.117734,0.234146
Posted 30 March 2006 at 07:38 pm

Pretty amazing. Glad the vein isn't bigger.

Posted 30 March 2006 at 08:29 pm

Hmmm, I will probably visit this place when I get older.
Sounds like good old eerie fun that gets you killed and makes your lifestory into a movie . :)

Posted 30 March 2006 at 08:33 pm

Armani said: "lol Oax im from oklahoma also. I never heard about Picher though since i live in ok city/norman. What area is Picher in?"

Picher is north of Miami (Miamuh) in Ottawa county, close to MO border. There's a good article in wikipedia.
Usually you hear picher/Cardin.

Posted 31 March 2006 at 06:38 am

My wife's family used to own a house (which no longer exists) in Centralia. She and her mother now own another family house in the next town. Some of the rocks on the road get hot enough to start melting the soles of your sneakers. The cemetary (again, she has relatives buried there) is kind of creepy with the smoke billowing from it. Steven Segal was in a film, Fire Down Below ( which had a town ( I think in Virginia) that had a similiar mine fire. The closed down protion of route 61 is all buckled. There is a old steam train ride in Ashland that takes you up onto the top of the adjacent mountain. There you can see the line of dead trees. They also have a mine tour.

Posted 31 March 2006 at 08:29 pm

if you're even mildly interested in this kind of stuff, google 'tar creek' and click on 'the Tar Creek Time Bomb'. It's a story that is astonishingly sickening . if it was fiction, no publisher would want it, because it's just too... I don't know what.

Posted 02 April 2006 at 12:57 am

O Miami, remember that from Oklahoma history class lol. Yea, that tar creek thing was crazy, if that were made into a movie ppl would complain like crazy.

Posted 03 April 2006 at 02:54 am

This place would be the ideal opportunity for a non-hostile takeover, and a chance for you to put your name in the history books. Who else could brag that they had stolen an entire town? Probably someone back in the depths of time, but I don't know anyone who can. You just stroll in, and take over the place. Call it what you want, make your own flag, your own independant country awaits.

Alan Bellows
Posted 03 April 2006 at 10:46 am

steveisgay said: "This place would be the ideal opportunity for a non-hostile takeover, and a chance for you to put your name in the history books. Who else could brag that they had stolen an entire town? Probably someone back in the depths of time, but I don't know anyone who can. You just stroll in, and take over the place. Call it what you want, make your own flag, your own independant country awaits."

Reminiscent of Sealand.

Posted 03 April 2006 at 01:36 pm

Who lit the fire that burned the trash? That guy must feel really guilty...

Posted 17 April 2006 at 07:50 am

I visistned Centralia on April 15, 2006. I have been reading about this town for over a year now ever since I saw an episode of Modern Marvels on the History Channel. Although I was very well educated about the disaster and had read everything I could about it, it still took me by surpirse and astonishment at the gravity of the situation (I mean that literally and figuratively as there are at least three cemetaries in Centralia- well kept I might add). Anyway, it is a shame that this sort of thing can happen (and as I learn more, I find that PA has many other sites like this) and there seems to be little or no attention to seriously soving the problem. Posting signs advising that serious bodily injury or even death may occur if you venture in to Centralia does not seem to be the appropariate resposbne by our government. I took a rock from the ruins of the smoldering hillside to take with me and to place in my garden as a reminder of this sad story.

Posted 24 April 2006 at 12:44 pm

I saw the movie mentioned above, Silent Hill, this weekend. The circumstances of the town were the only thing that reminds me of this article. Without ruining the movie for anyone, occasionaly the sky would turn completely dark and crazy/scary things would happen. Ash was constantly falling from the sky and the town was mostly abandonned. The reasonong behind this was that coal mines underground were on fire and the town has been evacuated. They based a semi-frightening story off a true event that coukd be very close and sad to some people. I guess that's Hollywood for you.

Posted 25 April 2006 at 09:49 am

Another town abandonned and condemned by the government...Gilman, Colorado. I did not know of Centralia until after seeing Silent Hill, but the idea of a modern day ghost town led me on an internet search for modern day ghost towns when I cam apon the story of Centralia, obviously used as a story idea for the town of Silent Hill, very interesting.

Posted 25 April 2006 at 10:20 am

I also seem to recall what happened to Berkitsville Maryland after the Blair Witch Project movie was released, somehow I forsee an onslaught of curious Silent Hill movie fans invading Centralia to aquire souveneirs, I cant crtitisize however, if I lived within reasonable driving distance of the town I'd probably visit it as well.

Posted 27 April 2006 at 10:12 am

ROAD TRIP - just dont drive 70 near the off ramp to the town!

Posted 01 May 2006 at 06:01 pm

It seems like you guys think the movie was based around Centralia's Story but the video game "silent hill" came out back in 99' and the movie follows the game's storyline almost exactly, except they changed the main character to a woman and a few other things . Its kinda wierd though because in the game theres a town a few miles down called Ashfield. And in real life its called Ashland which is two miles down. In the second game of the series there was a character named Eddie Dombrowski. and in real life there was a kid who fell into a sink hole with the same(or EXTREMLEY similar) last name Dombrowski.In the game there is a huge trench surrounding the town, where you cant see the bottom, nor the opposite side of it. Weren't they suppose to dig a 500ft trench around the town. Also, as i heard, the is an amusment park located near Centralia, There was also an amusment park very near Silent Hill. I also heard that the town was built entirley on a hill or something, and someone posted that there was perfect silence in the town, not even the sound of birds chirping, therefore, Silent Hill(and it sounds ALOT creepier than Centralia) There were a few more intruiging connections i made between Silent Hill and Centralia but i cant remember them of the top of my head. Perhaps something happened in centralia and this "mine fire" was just a cover up? Maybe, Maybe not. But i do intend to visit this place in the near future for my own curiosity and research.

Posted 08 May 2006 at 07:39 am

Mine fires are fairly common in Pennsylvania. While most of them do not end like this, Carbondale, for instance, which gets its name from its obvious coal mining past, has had fires burning underground for decades. Aboveground there are coal 'rivers': long tracts of land that look like a river until you realize they're simply solid coal surrounded on both sides by huge piles of scoria and waste coal. Much of Pennsylvania's beautiful territory was destroyed by coal mining in the past century, and very little is being done to help.

Posted 22 May 2006 at 10:59 am

I actually would love to go there myself, old abandoned towns really intruge me - especially one that's got a huge fire burning underneath it! =) The eerieness of it simply attracts me there.

I wonder, is there any way that the fire could be used creatively? Everyone is looking for ways to stop it, I'm trying to think if there are ways to put that fire to good use. I can understand the problem with the heavy presence of Carbon Monoxide, but I'm sure someone could figure out something.

Posted 04 June 2006 at 04:19 pm

I just got back from visiting Centralia today! It turns out that the borough is only about an hour and a half from my house. There is no longer a simple detour. The highway has been re-routed, and a significant section of old highway has been condemned. To pass on the highway, you have to climb a mount of dirt put there to block traffic. The first stretch of the condemned highway was pretty normal, albeit eerily overgrown. Then I got to the part that was buckling and cracked. It was like walking through some post apocalyptic war movie, and I was certain to crack numerous jokes to that effect. It was an awesome sight to behold!

Posted 04 June 2006 at 04:21 pm

PS— I saw some guys on mopeds and four-wheelers tear through. The closed-off section of the Centralia highway is an off-roader's dream come true!

Posted 17 June 2006 at 08:25 pm

I'll be visiting Knoebel's Grove next week with my brother and his wife, and I plan on making a stop at Centralia.

Is it truly dangerous to enter the town, look around, take some pictures? I need to know, in case I have to convince them.

I plan on giving a speech about Centralia in the near future...thanks for everyone's comments here. :-)

Posted 19 June 2006 at 07:29 am

There is a town in southern Australia where copious amounts of seaweed wash up on the shore all year round, and in summer this can really stink. One year the local fishermen had had enough and lit up the whole forshore as a bonfire to burn it off and get rid of the smell, however as the weed had been washing up for generations, it was beneath the whole town and surrounding areas. It took ages to get the subteranian fire out, but they did.


Posted 25 June 2006 at 06:58 pm

Are you legally allowed to enter Centralia? And if so, about how far off the road is the town?

I'm extremely interested in visiting, this Wednesday, matter of fact. Please. help me out!

Posted 19 July 2006 at 10:01 pm

I live about 15 minutes away from Centralia...pretty interesting stuff.
I'm going to roam around up there for a while tomorrow, see if anything of interest comes about.
I'll have my camera to take some pictures, maybe some videos.
FYI, if anyone feels like coming from all ends of the earth to visit Centralia, don't come on a school year weekend...certain unnamed high school kids tend to enjoy the lack of authoritative officials and lots of room to run in the off chance that they come about (not that Coal Region highschoolers participate in any illegal/immoral acts).

The Best Opinion
Posted 01 September 2006 at 08:08 am

Great article! This is my first time on Damn Interesting, and, I must say, this article lives up to its reputation. When I read it, I thought, "Wow, this really must have inspired 'Silent Hill'." I found that movie to be highly disturbing, and the article resonates greatly with some of the movie's themes. However, at least in real life, the town was abandoned b/c of the fires and not because of a "nightmare world" formed by an angry little girl burned at the stake for being a "witch". I bet the man who burned the garbarge felt very guilty for causing the fire that ultimately destroyed his hometown; he just should've taken the garbage to a dump rather than burning it, which releases toxic fumes into the environment.

Posted 18 September 2006 at 07:12 am

Would I be arrested if I went into Centralia? I would love to explore it all. Is it really that dangerous as the websites say. I have been doing a lot of research on Centralia, Pa. Please help with my questions if you can. Thank you very much.

Posted 30 September 2006 at 10:28 pm

Anton said: "Would I be arrested if I went into Centralia? I would love to explore it all. Is it really that dangerous as the websites say. I have been doing a lot of research on Centralia, Pa. Please help with my questions if you can. Thank you very much."

Actually, after leaving the Bloomsburg Fair on 9/30/06, my family and I (who live about 45 minutes away) decided to take a trip to Centralia. My son and I had recently seen Silent Hill and, although I was not aware that the game was in any way related to the town, I explained Centralia to him and looked it up on the web to show him. Having been a mere 20 miles away when we left the Fair, we decided to take a trip to Centralia. We were able to walk around the "town" and take photos and other than other tourist (from New Hampshire) there seemed to be no one around and definitely no police to bother you. It appears to me that unless people are bothering the few locals that remain, there would be no reason for you to be arrested. There are MANY places where there is smoke coming from the ground, and one place where my husband stepped down and created a small hole which began emitting smoke, it appears to be safe, so long as you are careful. There are many places where the homes were removed and sinkholes developed. Again, just be careful.

Posted 02 October 2006 at 06:35 pm

I live about 3 1/2 hours from Centralia. Every year I go there about two times to see the sites with my family. It's not very dangerous to go to if you justdon't be stupid, I see 8 year olds there every time I visit! It's a great place to go to..

Black Oktober6
Posted 10 October 2006 at 08:08 pm

Hey, I was wondering if anyone here could answer a question of mine.

Me and about 4 or 5 other friends want to visit Centralia in october of 2006, and if anyone has the answers just email me at

1. Our one friend heard that the town was closed to the general public. But I don't think it's true and from reading the comment above it doesn't seem that it is.

2. Anything we should know about the town?? Like roads leading in that are blocked or where are some good places to go to see some sites/intresting things.

3. I've heard something about people complaining about scratchy throats and trouble breathing after visiting. I'd imagen that it's only becuase they got to close to the vents, but anyone else have this happen?

4. anything important we should bring??

If anyone could answer these that'd be great. Once again my email is

Thank you

Posted 25 November 2006 at 02:22 am

I first found about Centralia from reading Strange Highways by Dean Koontz, which is set in a town that pretty much is Centralia except for the name. Right down to the story of the kid falling into the sinkhole (the kid in the book died from his burns, I believe the real kid survived).

In eastern Australia there is a coal seam that has been burning for thousands of years (probably started by a tree hit by lightning falling on the seam). It's away from civilisation though.

And for my ghost town contribution I give you Wittenoom - I remember staying a night there in 1987 (I was 7 years old at the time).

Posted 29 November 2006 at 02:57 pm

I'm from a town called Shamokin which is less than 20 minutes away from Centralia. It is NOT closed to the public..people still live there. A good friend of mine actually lives there with his parents. Yes, there are many roads closed by the main roads in are still open. The reason for the scratchy throats etc is because there is sulfur in the air. SULFUR EVERYWHERE! We are quiet little mining towns here in the Coal Region and often enough we'd prefer to be left alone. We don't make a big deal of Centralia, and you shouldn't either. And yes, we children of the coal enjoy offroading and drinking beer in the mountains..but that's just who we are. You'd never understand unless you were from there.

Posted 04 January 2007 at 09:10 pm

Centralia isn't this hell pit that everyone makes it out to be. Ash doesn't fall from the sky, the rocks and pavement aren't burning hot (unlike what one poster claims), and there is plenty of wildlife in the wooded areas around the old town. The vegetation damaged by the fire is growing back. People can walk around the town and take pictures (the locals are used to it) but if you step somewhere and create a sinkhole, then YOU ARE SOMEWHERE YOU SHOULD NOT BE. It's an interesting place to visit, but be respectful and heed the signs.

Also, the locals are more than happy to speak to anyone if you are polite about it. Just don't ask stupid questions like "can you boil an egg on the pavement?"

Posted 25 January 2007 at 11:12 am

Some friends and I visited Centralia a couple of weeks ago, and I got some awesome pictures. Check out my page for a description and a few photos. The rest of the photos are here.
The best time to go, as we did, is on a nice foggy Pennsylvania day.

Posted 01 February 2007 at 08:50 am

My boyfriend told me about Centralia and I'm really interested in going to visit. I think some weekend here soon we're going to go check it out.

Posted 26 March 2007 at 11:10 pm

I live 10 mins away from centralia in a town called treverton. You wanna know some fucked up shit about that place...There is an old cematary from the mid 1800's back in the woods off a side street at the west end of town you cant see it from the main road you have to go back some of the old paved roads to get to it an walk back into the overgrowth about 200 yards and you'll find it. There is tombstones sunk into the ground and old caskets sticking up out of the ground. The locals wont mess with them out of respect for the dead. Most are dead coal miners. There used to be a store called the speed spot in that town a few years back but my friends were messing around in it an burnt the place to the ground one night an no fire department was even called out to the fire till the next day when the place was burnt to the ground..they prolly did the town a favor an saved them some money so they didnt have to rip down a condemned building. Also if you plan on visiting that area becareful what roads you drive on up there not even a month ago my friend had his jeep wrangler up there driving the old mine roads and his 33 inch tires all melted and went flat from the heat of the road due to the fire underneth left him and his girlfriend stranded out there at 1am with no cell service and i dont know if you ever been out there or not but at night you cant see your hand in front of your face from all the smoke coming up from the ground it looks like fog but its not its a mix of smoke and gas. Its an awesome place to visit and a damn good place to party and drink beer since the nearest state police station is over 25 mins away.

Posted 17 June 2007 at 06:01 am

there is a documentary out now about Centralia..


Posted 21 October 2007 at 11:30 am

i really wish i cood live there because i hate alot of people so i will move ther i dont care if it cood kill me i think it wood be fun

Posted 12 November 2007 at 07:43 am

So, I was there yesterday...
First off, you can drive right into town, easy as can be, just follow the local signs, look it up on google beforehand.
Most of the "town" is just empty lots of somewhat overgrown weeds.
A few locals still keep up on their property... seemed to be used to people being around.
We drove and walked all over, frankly I was expecting a whole lot more.
There are quite a few places with a bit of steam coming up, about a dozen or so good sized steam vents...
The old cemetary (with stones from the 1800s) that was mentioned is perfectly well taken care of... no caskets sticking up, heck, not even overgrown. They had fresh flags at the stones of WW and WWII soldiers buried there. (and yes I mean the old, small one down the dirt road, not the newer, larger one)

The abandoned bit of highway (which was four lanes as opposed to the 2 lane stretch its been replaced with) is not too shabby, one big crack and one big buckle about half way down the road... the whole stretch of road is covered with really pathetic graffitti though, kind of a shame, it ruins an otherwise interesting looking area.

Everywhere you find steam vents you find trash. Mostly broken bottles etc, but all manner really. The place is a mess and more than a bit disappointing given all its hype.

Posted 25 December 2007 at 10:53 pm

This is still one of the most interesting stories that I love to read over and over again.

Posted 22 April 2008 at 01:03 pm

We were just there yesterday. I remember going to Knoebels every summer as a child and driving though the town. Now there are about four free standing buildings. Some were row homes. We took the Ashland coal mine tour. They said there, that the fire started by spontanious combustion due to all the garbage thrown down the old mine shaft. The fire will last about 200 more years. It is a bueatiful area. There was steam rising from the ground. The two cemetaries we saw were well kept. Very strange to drive around and see stop signs on roads where they are not needed any more.
I do remember as a child hearing how the people were not fairly treated and paid for their homes and land. But why would you stay? I do wish I knew more about the buy outs.

Posted 04 June 2008 at 07:03 pm

I'm currently a student at a college in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and I went to Centralia twice for a documentary project I was doing just recently. Like most people, the town caught my attention because of the popular horror video game/movie, Silent Hill. After doing alot of reaserch online, I was under the impression that the town was hazardous to explore and nearly inaccessable. Now I know that was just all alot of hype. Sure is was quiet but unless you actually seen pictures of the town before the fire, you'd think it was just a quiet borough in Pennsylvania. There are only a couple places where the steam was visible from the road.

I must agree with "Jenn5k." and say that the town is very nice and more than safe to visit. I was fortunate to speak to one of the residents that still lives there to this day and asked him alot of questions that seems to be on most of everyone's mind. My short documentary will become available on youtube if you want to know more. One of the questions I had the great opportunity to ask was, "Why didn't you leave like everyone else?" And he replied with, "I'm living here because I like it. The image people have of Centralia and the reality, is genetically different. Folks come to Centralia and don't realize they're here. If you think living in Centralia is a bunch of smoking holes with houses half hanging into them then you might wonder why it is I want to live here. But if you see houses interspersed with a lot of trees, then it gives it a whole new spin. I like living in a house seperated by lots of trees."

Then why did other people leave? He informed me that "90% of the people that relocated, didn't relocate because they were afraid of the mine fire. They knew the mine fire wasn't going to reach thier houses. The state offered residents federal money for relocation, usually twice as much as the house was worth. For them it was an opportunity to trade up. "NO ONE FROM CENTRALIA WAS EVER EVICTED." He couldn't stress enough that those who didn't want to leave, didn't have to.

He told me that they just had an engineer in town to test the air and relayed that it was as clean as a state park. They also just put in a new water main in the center of town which has me a little confused. I must say, the air was cleaner and crisper than the traffic fumes and factory pollution in Pittsburgh. So the horrific, toxic view of Centralia has been drasticly distorted. It's still worth checking out but there's not much to see now. Just a quiet town.
So, in reply to "Nate83,"
- No, the roads arn't hot enough to melt the rubber from your shoes, much less the tires off a car.
- No, the steam isn't so thick that you can't see your hand infront of your face. Most days and nights the steam is barely visable.
-No, caskets arn't popping up out of the graveyards. The graveyards are all well kept by the state.
Nate83 is just one of many people who come up to Centralia simply to vandalize the properties and throw garbage into the woods. So anyone who plans to make a trip to Centralia, please be respectful of the land and it's residents.

Posted 15 June 2008 at 12:22 pm

Yep, I went up there this morning. I figured it was a nice day out & I had nothing else to do, so what the heck? Well, like a dummy I screwed up on my intersections about 2 miles from Centralia and had to ask this nice woman at a gas station for directions. She said "Why would you go to Centralia?" I said, I'm in to that kind of stuff. So after finding the right way (thanks much to her) I got there. Actually, it's getting very overgrown, if it wasn't for the streets & a few road signs, you'd just think it was an old meadow. Very little remains of any demolished homes, a few (5 I think) are still standing and very well kept up with, plus the Centralia municipal building. As far as the air goes, its great, very refreshing (I mean you are on a mountain) No burning sulfur smell, no hot spots, I was kinda disappointed to not see any steam or cracked roads, but everything else was pretty cool. As far as sinkholes go, most are/were patched up years ago & I had no problems with taking my 7000 lb F-250 on the roads. I didn't take it much off road because of big piles of asphalt dumped and broken glass (the last thing I need is a flat). the roads up there all intertwine with one another, some lead to dead ends but mainly is like a regular city block setup. Both cemetaries (old one 'hidden' new one in the open) are kept up good, the new one looks better than the old one with wrought iron fencing around it, I actually took a bunch of pictures while I was up there. I was there about 2 hrs & the total footprint of the former town must only be about 6 square blocks. Overall, I don't think it was a wasted trip by any means, I wish that I could have gone up before the homes were taken down though. If you're going to go up & expect something like Silent Hill....don't, you won't find anything like that. If you are expecting to find a decrepit old town falling into big holes opening up by the minute, don't expect to find what you're looking for. It's a nice remainder of a bustling town that once was and I expect that within another 5 years it'll just look like a couple of houses perched along a main road.

Posted 07 July 2008 at 05:04 am

I'm Jorge Monroy from American Solar Energy Society
I haven't been in Centralia but I can think that that power(Heat power) can be used by injecting water in the cracks,then, with a controled heat transfer system conduit the steam to move turbines to produce electric energy. (Please write)

Posted 08 July 2008 at 12:00 pm

I was in Centralia just yesterday as my son is very interested in mining, as he has some distant cousins (his moms side of the family) that operate coal mines in the Shamokin area. As we drove around we did see some smoke coming from the ground, our feet were getting hot. We did walk over the dirt hill which now encloses the old Rt. 61. We saw how the road opened up and smoke coming from there as well.
I am concerned about the cemetary which is on the boarder of the old Rt. 61, what will happen there?

It is disheartening to see this "ghost town". I give the people who remain in the town much credit but what about heath concerns? I also saw a good amount of litering which is a shame...

I only live about an hour from the town and have taken a big interest in it as my son has.

Posted 01 August 2008 at 08:46 pm

My wife and I visited Centralia today. I have been interested in the town ever since I saw it on the History Channel. I researched it thoroughly, so I pretty much knew what to expect. Entering the town, there really isn't much to see. A few houses here and there. Some of them are very interesting because they are buttressed. They were row houses, and needed the extra support. If you look at pictures of the town, you'll see houses with what look like five or six chimneys.....

We headed up South St. towards where the fire started. There are many trees that have died and fallen over. Coal is strewn all over the ground. The ground up there was hot to the touch. Granted, it was about 90 today, but the ground was MUCH hotter than the sun would make it. Being a dry, hot day, there was no steam or smoke coming from the ground, but there was a definite sulfur/acid smell. I am asthmatic, so I noticed the poor air quality right away (once you got away from that area, the air quality improved greatly). It was rather eerie up there.........although in a pleasant way..........kind of hard to describe really.

Driving around town, you really don't see much. A few houses, an abandoned trailer, lots of empty lots and stairs from sidewalks that lead to nowhere. There is a very interesting church up on the hill. The cemeteries are all kept up very well, as are the streets oddly enough. Believe it or not, Centralia was a rather busy place today. Lots of traffic on Rt. 61, 54, Big Mine Run Rd., etc. Not what one would expect.

We also checked out old Rt. 61. THIS was interesting. I'd seen pictures, but they don't do it justice. About half way down, the road starts to heave, and is split down the middle in one lane. The fissure in the road smoked and smoldered. It was rather interesting. Unfortunately, kids have tagged up the road, so it detracts from what would otherwise be a very interesting place.

All in all, Centralia was quite pleasant. Sure, some parts were rather weird (like the area where the fire started, and the old road), but otherwise it was quite nice. Anyone who is interested in going should have no reservations about it.

Posted 08 August 2008 at 01:40 pm

does anyone know of a site that has the video of jon stewart's interview in centralia? if you do, please let me know. thanks!

Bob Nesbo
Posted 22 September 2008 at 05:26 am

I grew up in Scranton, (born in 1962) and there was a mine fire just west of I-81 in the town of Dickson City. We used to call it "Stinky Mountain" when we would drive past it. Thankfully by the time I started high school (1976) they put the fire out.

Lucky us!

Posted 10 December 2008 at 02:14 pm

just curious, but couldn't this be used as some sort of energy generation? All that coal burning can generate a lot of heat which is the key factor in many power plants. It might just be comletely impossible. *shrug*

Also, you'd think if they evacuated the town that they could tear it up and extract the unburnt coal. I know the article says it would cost X billion dollars to dig a trench, but, what about just mining the unburnt stuff? Thats a profitable industry in many places. Take away the fuel, the fire dies, right?

The trailer for silent hill is just disturbing. Strange how people want to take a normal/scary situation and take it to a demonic scary situation. I don't like horror films.

Posted 10 December 2008 at 05:19 pm

ValiantDefender said: “couldn't this be used as some sort of energy generation? All that coal burning can generate a lot of heat which is the key factor in many power plants.

It would be great if the heat could be tapped. The problem is that your heat exchanger (pipes with a fluid) needs to be fairly close, if not in the heat source. With the burning coal, your heat source is actually moving, so as the coal burns the pipes are left behind. Second is distance from plant to heat exchanger. The steam turbine needs to be fairly close to the heat exchanger because the greater the distance, the larger the pump to move the fluid. Also the greater the distance the more heat loss before it reaches the turbine.
Finally how do you get the piping to the burning coal? Cutting any holes to run the pipes just gives the coal another fresh air source to burn even hotter.

"Also, you'd think if they evacuated the town that they could tear it up and extract the unburnt coal. I know the article says it would cost X billion dollars to dig a trench, but, what about just mining the unburnt stuff? Thats a profitable industry in many places. Take away the fuel, the fire dies, right?"

To do this is taking a risk, a very big risk. You have the possibility of methane leaks, and also coal dust to contend with. Both are very combustion worthy, and with those underground fires you could have some explosions as you dig out the coal.

The other problem is that you have no idea how stable the ground you are digging in is. Since the coal is burning underground, it is also creating unknown voids. Just imagine if a large section was honeycombed out and gave out beneath the equipment. Those mega-ton diggers and million dollar dump trucks would be nothing more than scrap. Not to mention the possible loss of life. ;)

The Don.

Posted 14 August 2009 at 11:34 am

This site interested me from the time I read it. I was born and raised in the Throgs Neck projects in the Bronx, New York. By the Whitestone Bridge. There too from back in the late 60's up to the 90's, the same situation took place. I remember as a child playing in the large fields that is at least 2 sqare miles large. And jumping over the smoking holes. I remember hearing people talk and saying nothing could be built there cause it's sinking. Large, deep holes would sometimes appear that were'nt there the day before. Every day we played there. Now as an adult I have several health problems and my eldest son was born with some issues too. Can this have affected me? Why didn't my parents move out of there? I would never know.

Posted 25 November 2009 at 04:26 pm

I wouldn't be suprised if it has something to do with a phrase uttered in 1961 of "burn in hell" by a ruthless person mad at somebody else or the pure hatred or thought of the town at that moment. I'd research all of the people who used to live in the town and attempt to either sell this script to the 'X-files' or locate any profile fits and de-demonize them. (nothin better ta do)

Posted 26 November 2009 at 04:42 am

zxx said: "I wouldn’t be suprised if it has something to do with a phrase uttered in 1961 of “burn in hell” by a ruthless person mad at somebody else or the pure hatred or thought of the town at that moment. I’d research all of the people who used to live in the town and attempt to either sell this script to the ‘X-files’ or locate any profile fits and de-demonize them. (nothin better ta do)"

Sorry.......LOL!.....again sorry.

Posted 21 January 2010 at 12:39 pm

Its quite an interesting place... I would love to visit there someday before it become too dangerous. Ive heard Ashland is getting nervous about the fire heading primarily in their direction. Very cool.

Posted 20 June 2010 at 07:50 pm

We just visited Centralia today after reading this and other blogs. I was surprised that you could drive right through it. The closed portion of highway 61 seems to be outside of the village of Centalia proper. One good decision we made was to bring bikes so it is easy to quickly roam around and get around barriers (mounds of dirt). There was nothing to see today and only a little to smell in the way of a coal fire. I am guessing the air temperature was near 90 F so it was hard to detect hot ground. There were a few dozen people there just wandering around as if it were a local park. They were there for the same reason as us, to check out Centralia. Some had been there many times before. It was very peaceful and casual. Some locals said the time to visit is during the rain so you can see water evaporating on the hot ground. It was our opinion that coming in the winter months would be advisable because the foliage would be down and visibility would be much improved. Vegetation is thriving and some of the trees are decades old. Between that and underbrush it is hard to tell there was ever a thriving town there except for the paved streets.
The closed portion of 61 is interesting but would have been more so if it were still smoking. Most of the road is tagged with practically all references being to sex and hell. Drawings of penises outnumber breasts (pairs) about 10:1.
Overall my opinion, and that of some old time locals we met, is that this fire seems to be going out!

Posted 06 September 2010 at 10:09 pm

I cannot wait to visit and I will make sure to be respectful. I know it won't be like the Silent Hill games, but it
will still be interesting. I love learning about old ghost towns and such. I would love to know more ghost towns and places that might interest me. Also, would love to hear more stories like this that exist.

Liverpool Pete
Posted 21 August 2011 at 05:10 am

Been interested in this place ever since I found out about the place . Although from the UK , we were in the U.S. in August to visit family in NY . We travelled down to the area to visit Knoebels and took the opportunity to visit Centralia while we were in the area .

Interesting place. Pity the abandoned highway is covered in juvenile graffiti but still interesting to see. Still a couple of hot spots on the highway. The town itself is pretty much abandoned apart from a few remaining houses . Strange to see all the roads still in place but without any houses which they used to serve .Some of the streets still have the street signs on them.

Next to the cemetery ( adjacent the abandoned highway ) is the area which is still showing signs of the underground fire . Although it was pushing 90 degrees when we were there , there were still a couple of spots in the slag heaps that were venting smoke / vapour .

Could only spend a short time while there , but will try and get back there in the future.

Liverpool Pete
Posted 21 August 2011 at 05:16 am

Camertaonself above mentioned about Ashland being in danger.

We actually visited the mine tour in Ashland before visiting Centalia ( great place to visit by the way ) and asked the tour guide if Ashland was in any danger . He said that it wasn't as it's at a lower elevation than Centralia and that there was no chance of it reaching Ashland as it was lower than the water table.

Posted 20 October 2011 at 01:42 am

It would still be great to bring Centralia back - it is so disgusting that our government would have let this happen, when the amount of money spent to try to combat this would have been a very worthwhile investment - look at what this is costing over time - relocating people, the amount of coal destroyed, the potential for harm this fire still holds for the future -
I always loved the movie "nothing but trouble" which is the first time I had learned about coal mine fires burning underground - what about the possibility of getting a special version of this, and maybe other movies that have this vein in them (pardon the pun) - and have a bit about Centralia before the movie, with an action plan to bring the town back?
I just don't see the logic in "letting this burn itself out" -

Posted 05 April 2012 at 11:59 am

I was in Scranton 3-4 years ago with a day off,get a rental car and visited the place I had read about and seen info online for year ,it was a nice drive up thru Ashland ,got there and it was a ghost town,I was the ony person driving around,did not see another vehicle.Looks like the only thing occupied looked like the fire station. Walked around the cemataries and churches and shot alot of photos and video.Kinda sad driving out thru Manahoy city,must be alot of job loss and dispair,seems some of the older row home are literally falling over from age and or disrepair.The vacant old coal yard and hooppers also made for nice photo and video.

Eric B
Posted 03 August 2013 at 05:59 pm

After reading this, I was curious to see the time capsule site. I did find it, which had been vandalized. It was a concrete block capsule that had a large piece of slab on top of it. The slab was broken into a lot of pieces and thrown into the capsule. I dug all of the slab pieces out of it. It seems as though a part of the vandalism involved buring a fire inside the capsule, the bottom had a layer of ashes. I saw something in the ashes, so I ended up finding several coins. Two of the coins were silver dollars. Almost all of the coins were dated 1976, except for one wheat penny dated 1944. These coins couldn't have been put there with original capsule, considering they were 10 years older than the capsule date of 1966. Did they add stuff to it every ten years. The coins were in there for a long time and lived through a lot of vandalism without being detected. I think this was a really cool find, I just wish I understood how 1976 coins got in a time capsule set in 1966. Had to have been added later. Definitely an interesting place to visit. There was a film crew there today making a documentary movie on the town.

Dave Miller
Posted 25 January 2014 at 07:04 am

correct,aid: "Moving a commdy because of some life changing situations are noted elsewhere. As I recall, there is a town in Missouri that had to be abandoned for health reasons."

Yes you are correct, Times Beach - the dioxin incident to be exact. That was yet another nasty tragedy and again people blame the government.

Beckett Nodal
Posted 27 March 2014 at 11:11 pm

Hershey... meet Centralia. Now let's make some freakin' s'mores.

Andrew Shecktor
Posted 12 April 2014 at 09:29 pm

I have been to Centralia when it was a vibrant town, and only recently following it being vacated. The site of the vacant town prompted me to write a fictional novel, based on historical events and with a section on the history of the town. Much of the history has been lost to time or is very difficult to find. If anyone is interested, it is titled "Centralia PA, Devils Fire" and can be found on Amazon by searching "Centralia PA". It is a tribute to the town, and what can happen when nature gets the better of us. We feel we can control anything, but few mine fires have ever been actually put out, and thousands burn across the world.

David M . Rummell
Posted 27 May 2014 at 12:20 pm

My local newspaper has a " on this date " section that says May 27th , 1962 is the day the fire started . That prompted me to google Centralia and learn more about this tragic event in the year I was born . Now I want to make a road trip to the place and check it out firsthand . This would be about a 3-4 hour drive for me and was wondering if it would really be worth it . Many prior posts say that it is possible , is it safe to do ? , I love photography also is there anything left to photograph ? Any honest responses appreciated . Thank you .

Bill Wilson
Posted 27 May 2014 at 07:40 pm

I grew up in NW Indiana next to Chicago. Not far across the state line were forest preserves with swampy peat bogs. Occasionally during hot dry summers some lower layers of peat would ignite spontaneously and slowly burn until the rains returned and saturated the ground enough to quench the fires. The air quality was already lousy from all the steel mills and refineries so the smoke didn't really didn't bother anyone.

Moxy dog
Posted 18 October 2014 at 02:35 pm

I would love to go there it's like silent hill hell ya

Posted 01 January 2015 at 11:43 am

Was there in late October. Have been intrigued for years and made it that way after a stay at Hershey Park. Putting aside the history and tragedy of the entire event, there was obviously not a lot to see other than a handful of likeminded gawkers and walkers. The old highway is a mosaic of graffiti which one would expect. Sadly, my kids made it a game to find as many curse words and pictures of private parts as they could. All in good fun i guess. There was a friendly local who pointed us in the direction of a small steam vent and one could spend a good amount of time exploring on foot. There are a few areas of the footprint foundations of some of the former homes. I would come more prepared with maps and such if you have an interest in matching the old photos with what exists now.

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