Underneath the streets a massive fire burns. Ash and smoke erupt from the earth, people flee their homes, and a once vibrant township is now a ghost town. It sounds like the opening of the popular Konami video game series SILENT HILL which was inspired by the town, but for the people of Centralia, Pennsylvania, this is a reality.
The first coal mining operation began in 1856. By the 1950’s, close to two thousand people called Centralia home. Then in May of 1962, the mine beneath the town caught fire. The fire was believed to have started when the town decided to burn the trash at the landfill. The trash fire traveled through an opening in the mine where it ignited the large coal deposits below. Feeding off of coal and the oxygen traveling through the mine shaft openings on the surface, the fire raged out of control.
For the next sixteen years the town attempted to extinguish a fire just below their feet. But no matter how hard they tried, another plume of smoke and fire would spring out of the ground in some other part of town. Many of the residents started experiencing blackouts as carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and methane began leaking out of cracks in the ground. One by one the townsfolk saw no other alternative but to leave their homes forever. The true magnitude of the situation wouldn’t come to the surface until 1979 when locals began recording temperatures of 180 degrees Fahrenheit on the ground’s surface. Then on Valentines Day 1981 a twelve-year-old boy was nearly killed when he fell into a steaming sinkhole created by the mine fire.
The fire is still burning today! Looking at the town from above (check it out on Google Earth), you still see the streets laid at in a perfect grid. However, only a handful of homes (yes, some people still live there) and an old church from 1911 remain standing. Graffiti covers an old decimated section of Route 61 that used to pass through town, and steam still pours out of the cracks in the asphalt. By 2010 the population of Centralia dwindled down to just ten people. With the occasional plumes of steam and poison gas still spewing out of the ground Centralia may remain a burning ghost town forever.