(my family on my dad’s side worked in mines in centralia, pennsylvania)
Centralia- On Valentine’s Day 1981, twelve year-old Todd Domboski plunged through the earth in his grandmother’s backyard in Centralia, Pennsylvania. The sink-hole the boy was rescued from (which was 150 ft. deep) was the result of a coal mine fire that has been burning beneath the town since 1962.
It is not known for sure how the mine fire in Centralia was started. The most widely accepted theory asserts that in 1962, five members of the volunteer fire department were hired by the Centralia Borough Council to clean the town landfill. The firefighters set the dump on fire and let it burn for a while as they had always done in the past, but it is believed that this time they failed to extinguish the fire properly. The fire is thought to have remained burning underground until it eventually spread to the abandoned coal mines that are beneath the town. Adverse health effects were reported by several people due to the byproducts of the fire- carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and a general lack of healthy oxygen levels.
In 1979 locals became aware of the scale of the problem when a gas-station owner, while checking the fuel level in one of his tanks, realized the stick used to take the measurement felt hot. He then lowered a thermometer hanging from a string into the tank, and was astonished to discover that the temperature of the gasoline in the tank was 172 degrees. Statewide attention to the fire began to increase, culminating in the accident involving Todd Domboski.
In 1984 the U.S. Congress allocated more than $42 million for relocation efforts, and most of the residents accepted buy-out offers and moved to nearby communities (a few families chose to stay in Centralia, despite warnings from Pennsylvania officials). Centralia became a ghost town as the population dwindled from over 1,000 in 1981 to 9 in 2007, making it the least-populous municipality in Pennsylvania. Very few homes remain standing, having been demolished by both humans and nature, and at a casual glance Centralia appears to be little more than a field with paved streets running through it. Attempts to extinguish the fire have been abandoned, and it remains burning under 400 acres of the town- it is predicted the fire will continue to burn for another 250 years. As of 2010 state officials are still trying to vacate the residents of the five remaining homes in Centralia, so they can demolish what is left of the town.
This photo is from the book The Day the Earth Caved In by Joan Quigley. Pictured in the photo is the hole through which Todd Domboski fell, with a visible root spanning the hole like a bridge. The steam that is seen escaping from the hole was measured as containing lethal levels of carbon monoxide. The photo was originally featured in the Shenandoah Evening Herald.
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