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Centralia

The stupidness of humans never ceases to amaze me.  The good people of Centralia, Pennsylvania decided to burn some garbage in May 1962 and hired some volunteer firefighters to do the job and they did in an abandoned coal mine.  After burning the trash the firefighters made the bold decision to not actually put the fire out like they had in years past.

Of course the fire spread, growing throughout the mine and gaining intensity as it did so. No one really paid attention to the ongoing fire until 1979, when a gas station owner noticed his tanks had reached a temperature of 175 degrees Fahrenheit.  Of course by this time, the fire had been burning for 17 years already.

Numerous attempts were made to extinguish or contain the underground fire over the next two decades. The mines were flushed with water and the burning coal was excavated, but despite the persistence of the workers, their efforts were unsuccessful. The work continued for years at a great expense, with no appreciable progress.

By year 19, the state of Pennsylvania finally conceded that Centralia was burning from the inside out when in 1981, a 12-year-old boy was almost swallowed alive by his grandmother’s back yard.

At that point, about seven million dollars had been spent in the firefighting effort. Experts determined that the only option remaining to effectively battle the fire would be a massive trenching operation, at the cost of about $660 million, with no guarantee of success. Left with such limited options on the 22nd year of the fire buring, the state of Pennsylvania basically condemned the entire town, and spent $42 million in government funds relocating most of its residents. Most residents, fearing everything from a large-scale collapse to consumption at the hands of a vengeful Earth, accepted the offer and moved to near by cities.

For the 30th anniversary of the fire, Pennsylvania claimed eminent domain on all properties in the borough, condemning all the buildings within. A subsequent legal effort by residents to have the decision reversed failed. (you know, because they want to love in a city being consumed by fire).  For the 40th anniversary of the fire, in 2002, the United States Postal Service revoked Centralia’s ZIP Code, 17927.

Still, some of the 1,000 or so residents stayed behind. In fact, up until recently, there were still a handful of residents (nine in 2007) who felt that standing your ground was more valuable than not living in a place that is constantly on fire.  Just in case it hasn’t been consumed by fire or the air is still breathable, it is expected that many former residents will return in 2016 to open a time capsule buried in 1966 next to the veterans’ memorial.  If I were them, I would wear asbestos socks and underwear. 

The fire is being brought under control.  There is enough coal in the eight-mile vein to feed the fire for up to two hundred and fifty years, but it may burn itself out in as few as one hundred years so now is a perfect time to pick up a house and then flip it in 2125.

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