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The Fire down below
November 25, 2009 2:52 PM   Subscribe

Centralia Pennsylvania : Since 1962 Centralia has stood on top of a coal mine fire, the origin of which was likely a trash fire started by firemen in an effort to clean up the local landfill. In 1962 over 1000 people lived there, in 2007 there where nine. Most residents accepted Pennsylvania's buyout and relocation offer initiated in 1985 and funded to the tune of $42 million dollars by the US Congress. Houses where bulldozed and today fields, cemeteries and new growth forrest are primarily what is left, a temporary bypass to Route 61 was made permanent when giant mounds of dirt where used to block either end from entering or leaving Centralia. It is estimated that these fires will burn for over 250 more years, although some speculate that it may spread and burn a lot longer eventually encompassing several more towns (such as Byrnesville, Pennsylvania already a casualty). Globally there are thousands of underground coal fires, some man made, some (Burning Mountain in Australia going for 5500 years) natural.
posted by edgeways (28 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Previously.
Previouslier.
posted by Mr. Anthropomorphism at 3:01 PM on November 25, 2009


Baby, is it an underground coal seam fire raging out of control, or is it my love for you?
posted by GuyZero at 3:04 PM on November 25, 2009


Byrnesville

Eponysterical!

Although people losing their homes is never funny. I wonder if it's possible to create the equivalent of a fire break underground. Perhaps using a tunnel boring machine to make a big circle around the town and fill the ring with concrete.
posted by borkencode at 3:13 PM on November 25, 2009


The worst part about Centralia is the bonestripper.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:15 PM on November 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


Also similar: Darvaza aka the "Door to Hell" - Pictures on English Russia
posted by msbutah at 3:39 PM on November 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sorry to be nitpicky, but there is no h in were.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:39 PM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would love to visit this place. Nothing cooler than a ghost town.
posted by Bageena at 4:08 PM on November 25, 2009


Where's the part where energy companies have done geological surveys and have begun the process of harvesting that heat energy?
posted by snsranch at 4:51 PM on November 25, 2009


I've been here!
The town is the inspiration for the terrible silent hill movie, and we hadn't been there but five minutes when an air raid siren went off. It was wild, we went in the wintertime, and there would be puddles that faded into ice patches. Some of the rocks were hot to the touch, and the vents they installed are creepy wire-cased rusted wrecks. It's worth a trek if you live within five hours of it or so.
posted by Archibald Edmund Binns at 4:54 PM on November 25, 2009


A few years ago, we saw Pittsburgh's Squonk Opera do this amazing show about Centralia. Puppets and music and terrifying stuff. It seems to have been a fitting tribute.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:08 PM on November 25, 2009


Well, if anyone's interested, the religibots are determined that Burning Mountain is a challenge to the evolutionary timescale. They are, of course, stupidly, abysmally wrong.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:13 PM on November 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


Previouslier indeed, but I have to admit, Centralia (and other firey holes in the earth) I rarely get tired of reading about.
posted by opsin at 5:17 PM on November 25, 2009


Ahhhh I love the Centralia story. Thanks for the link on other underground fires. And just to pile some more cool on top of this: naturally occurring nuclear reactors!

Well, if anyone's interested, the religibots are determined that Burning Mountain is a challenge to the evolutionary timescale.

Isn't everything?
posted by greenland at 5:59 PM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Centralia via Google Maps. And you can take your own armchair walking tour, since street view is enabled (at least along Locust Avenue and part of Center Street).
posted by hangashore at 6:44 PM on November 25, 2009


Sorry to be nitpicky, but there's only one r in forest, unless it's a Gump.
posted by hypersloth at 7:58 PM on November 25, 2009


Hey, and there's that Door to Hell natural gas fire crater.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:08 PM on November 25, 2009


Or, um, er, what s/he said. Opps.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:09 PM on November 25, 2009


Globally there are thousands of underground coal fires

Speaking of the Door to Hell, which is burning off what I had thought was a valuable, non-renewable natural resource…

Globally, what amount of "waste gas" is being flared off? I've seen stacks in Alberta that are burning continuously. Seems strange to me they're not extracting local power at the very least.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:17 PM on November 25, 2009


I wonder if it's possible to create the equivalent of a fire break underground. Perhaps using a tunnel boring machine to make a big circle around the town and fill the ring with concrete.

IIRC they tried, but the fire got out around the edge before they could get it totally encircled. Something like that.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:28 PM on November 25, 2009


fff - I've always wondered that myself. Why not get some Icelanders over to Centralia to slap some geothermal power generators over the place and put it to use.
I've always been curious about how many tons of greenhouse gases are being put into the atmosphere from perpetual fires like this. It's gotta be lots, right?
posted by msbutah at 8:39 PM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was there a few years ago - the steam coming up at the edge of/in the graveyard has a rather creepy effect, even knowing its cause. And the walk down the bypassed part of 61 has a nice assortment of graffiti (you can see some of the interesting stuff with a google search). And then there's the spot where all the houses were (and a few remain) - I think the few remaining ones make the area look even more barren, as a reminder of what was.
posted by radicarian at 8:52 PM on November 25, 2009


There's not a whole lot that scares me anymore, but Centralia is nightmare fuel.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:28 PM on November 25, 2009


five fresh fish - this link describes the different ways and reasons for flares. It says most flaring in western Canada involves gas that cannot be any processed any further. There are some sour gas wells around as well - but luckily they still tend to be away from populated areas.
posted by jeffmik at 10:05 PM on November 25, 2009


And you can take your own armchair walking tour, since street view is enabled (at least along Locust Avenue and part of Center Street).

Which means they drove a Street View car through it - certainly safe in absolute terms, but I'm amazed nobody went lawyerplectic and shut that down before it could happen.

Why not get some Icelanders over to Centralia to slap some geothermal power generators over the place and put it to use.

The thing is, the place is still standing, mostly. The energy of the burning stuff is enough to cause problems for human beings, but I'm pretty sure it's still tiddlywinks compared to the energy scale necessary to make a power plant worthwhile.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:50 PM on November 25, 2009


Upon actually checking out the google street view: Huh, weird, I really thought all paths into the town had been closed off, and it was a basically-safe-but-technically-forbidden thing to go in.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:52 PM on November 25, 2009


During the height of the Molly Maguire saga, a priest from St. Ignatius RC Church delivered a severe condemnation from the pulpit of their activities. Later, he was savagely beaten. He cried out for help, but nobody came to his aid. It is said that he cursed the city to eternal hellfire.

Granted, it took close to a hundred years ...

[ insert spooky music here ]
posted by RavinDave at 3:48 AM on November 26, 2009


The Town that Was is an interesting documentary about one of Centralia's last citizens.
posted by batou_ at 4:47 AM on November 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've heard about Centralia a million times, but I really like things like this and Hell's Door. Fire interesting!

As referenced by Mr. Anthropomorphism:

Just as an update to one of his links (America's Toxic Towns), Cheshire (Ohio) is not deserted and probably never will be. I don't know exactly what happened, but there are definitely more people living there than there were just after the buyout. I think there were more holdouts than previously thought. I don't expect Centralia to be any different.

Also, Cheshire has two power plants: Gavin and Kyger Creek. Ohio State Route 7 splits Kyger Creek in half and the resulting short corridor is oddly beautiful.
posted by fujiko at 5:45 PM on December 2, 2009


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