Why American Town Centralia Has Been on Fire for 60 Years?

The story behind American town Centralia that has been on fire for 60 years


Centralia is a provincial town that was not much different from any other settlement in the state of Pennsylvania. So far, a fatal mistake has not led to irreversible consequences. We tell why the city began to smolder and how it became the prototype for the horror game Silent Hill.

"Why American town Centralia has been on fire for 60 years"
Why American town Centralia has been on fire for 60 years

In America, there is the city of Centralia, which seems to have been created specifically for the shooting of a disaster movie in it. Asphalt with funnels, roads that look more like destroyed trenches, smoke, ruins, scorched earth, and almost deathly silence. It is hard to imagine, but 60 years ago this settlement was a rapidly developing city with great prospects for the future.

The real story behind American town Centralia has been on fire for 60 years:

The story began in the middle of the 19th century. In 1841, a small Bull’s Head tavern was opened here, a little later anthracite coal deposits were discovered here, and already in 1866 a settlement appeared in which the population was engaged in mining. Such a small town was similar to other settlements that were associated with coal mining. It was named Centralia, the two existing mines soon became five, and the population increased (despite the fact that even in the most prosperous years the population did not exceed 2,000 people).

The tunnels of the mines passed in the immediate vicinity of the city, so most of the men were engaged in coal mining. It seemed that its deposits are capable of providing several more generations because coal reserves would be enough for hundreds of years. More and more schools, shops, and churches appeared in the provincial town.


Life went on as usual, but already in 1929, there was a decline in development, which was associated with the onset of the Great Depression and the stock market crash. The existing mines had to be closed, but some residents remained in the city: for many miners, this was the only way to feed their families – to mine coal illegally. Since some mines turned out to be abandoned, residents dumped accumulated garbage in the pit of one of them, and every year the amount of waste in the open pit increased exponentially.

But these serious shocks were not the most deplorable for the further fate of Centralia. There are several versions of the “disaster”, but the Department of Environmental Protection adheres to the main one – an underground fire started in the city.


May 28 is Memorial Day in the United States, and in 1962, local authorities, in an attempt to clean up the city, decided to burn garbage (despite the fact that such actions were illegal in Pennsylvania).

The firemen could not extinguish the outbreak of fire immediately:

And at that moment, the network of city tunnels played a cruel joke: the firemen could not extinguish the outbreak of fire immediately. The flames spread to the lower layers of debris, as a result, they moved to the coal seams, making their way deep into the earth.

Throughout the year, residents tried to fix the problem themselves, at least to do everything possible to contain the fire. Attempts were unsuccessful, and the authorities turned to the Mine Safety and Health Administration for help, but the payment for trenches to put out the fire was too high: it exceeded the cost of the city by more than a dozen times.

A few years later, living in Centralia was no longer possible. Due to rising carbon monoxide, residents noticed a severe deterioration in their health: headaches, suffocation, dizziness, and constant bouts of nausea. The ground underfoot literally cracked before our eyes, forming geysers and underground pits, and the heated soil continued to raise the air temperature.

The full extent of the problem was clearly shown in 1979 when the owner of a gas station in the town measured the temperature of the gas in his underground containers: it was equal to 75 ° C and, naturally, exceeded normal values. Under such conditions, the geyser could explode at any moment.

The event that drew the attention of the whole country and journalists to Centralia happened in 1981 on Valentine’s Day. 12-year-old boy Todd Dombrowski fell into a 40-meter sinkhole on his grandmother’s property. He miraculously survived and got out by clinging to tree roots until his cousin could save him. In an interview with The New York Times, the boy said that the smoke coming out of the hole was so thick that he could not see anything.

Constant temperature measurements began to be made in the city:

After this incident, constant temperature measurements began to be made in the city, and in order to reduce the pressure as much as possible, more than two thousand wells were drilled. In 1984, Congress nevertheless allocated some money for the resettlement of the inhabitants of Centralia. Almost all families moved to the nearest settlements, but some still remained in the city.

Now the “burning city” is a place of attraction for brave tourists who want to see Silent Hill with their own eyes ( read also: Where to hide from tourists: 10 alternative cities in Europe ). The buildings left here are the church, which is still functioning, the city center overgrown with plants, destroyed houses (about 500 were deliberately demolished), and a few living ones, only there are signs hanging on them: “We are not conducting interviews.”

According to research, there is enough coal underground to burn for another 250 years. I wonder how much more graffiti will be painted during this time and whether Centralia will remain an inviting place with warning signs “Caution – walking or driving in this area may cause serious injury or death”?

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