Centralia

The lost Pennsylvania mining town with an uncontrollable fire raging underground.

For most people who have heard of Centralia they know it as a spooky abandoned ghost-town. They might even know it as the inspiration for the film adaptation of Silent Hill. But before Centralia was abandoned it was a normal small Pennsylvania mining town like most others in the area.

The abandoned Old PA Route 61, now known as the “Graffiti Highway”, before being covered in dirt by the state in 2020 to discourage visitors

The Fire

In the spring of 1962 one of the town trash dumps, which had previously been a strip mine, was set on fire in an attempt to clean it up for Memorial Day. The fire got out of hand and spread down into the abandoned mining tunnels below the town. The fire was not put out.

Given the estimated amount of anthracite coal under Centralia the fire could burn for another 250 years. Temperatures easily exceed 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. As the fire rages underground it expels gases above ground and causes the ground to shift both up & down. As roads buckled and sinkholes collapsed people continued to live in town.

The fire was relatively tame until late 1979 when it was discovered that the basement of Coddingtons gas station had a floor temperature of 136° F and the lot across from the station had steam coming out of the ground. The gas station was in the direct path of the underground fire that was aggressively spreading in multiple directions. In the 1980s hot mine gasses were spewing from the ground and into homes. Residents were sickened by carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.

The fire has spread across multiple fronts generally moving southwest but there is an additional fourth front to the East.

Eminent Domain

In 1980 there were around 1,000 residents of Centralia, As the fire spread across multiple fronts people began to move out in larger numbers and by 1992 there were only 5 remaining residents. What was left of the town was claimed by the state of Pennsylvania under eminent domain. Per an agreement with the state, as the remaining residents move away or die, the state demolishes their homes.

As of 2017 one of the few remaining homes left in Centralia.

Today there are still a few die-hard residents remaining. Centralia is now a grid of streets with no street signs, only four buildings, and a few cemeteries. Sidewalks are interrupted by the occasional cut-in for driveways which no longer exist. There are walkway stairs that go nowhere. You could drive through Centralia and not even notice. Nature has reclaimed most of the space that used to be people’s homes and businesses as the underground fire continues to burn.

Rather than being a freaky ghost-town, Centralia is a sad story about the end of a small town community. The documentary the Town that Was does a great job documenting the town’s history and its slow disappearance.