Welcome to Centralia, Pennsylvania...

A little piece of "God's Country"
that turned to "Hell on Earth...

Centralia is a small town located in Columbia County (bordering Schuylkill County), Pennsylvania, in the very heart of Anthracite country. In May 1962, a fire started in a garbage dump in an abandoned stripping pit near the town. It reached a large coal vein running under the town and started the coal burning. It has been burning ever since.

With an original population of 1100 residents, it dwindled to less than 30 over the years, with the rest being ordered by the court to leave their homes by the end of December, 1997.  However, as of 2000, a few homes still remain.

I remember riding in the family car through Centralia on our way to a local amusement park when I was a child in the mid1960's. Even then, there would be times where the road we traveled on was closed in a section, due to a subsidence caused by the mine fire (coal burns and reduces to ash. The ground above then collapses...). I remember not quite understanding what was happening to this town and it's people, but now, in my late 30's, I understand it quite well...

For generations, many of the men of this community worked hard in the mines, many of them dying young, or suffering from Black Lung. They trusted a government who let them down with promises of "extinguishing" the fire. But it was cheaper to get them to leave by buying out their properties than to do the right thing and spend the money to put it out. (my opinion, but the numbers are there...and considering what the government spends on nonsense it also seems clear that the money would have been there to do the project right if Senator So-and-So wasn't woo-ing his constituents with the big bucks by getting them stuff like contracts for $900 toilet seats...).

They were faced with the reality of having to leave their homes, friends and families. Many of them were lifelong residents of this small town. Some left without a fight, some left in fear (of both the fire and the government, in my opinion) and some refused to leave. They fought long and hard, but in the end, the government they once trusted turned on them again and ordered them all to leave by the end of December, 1997.

Maybe it seems like a simple decision to some...who would want to live in a town where the heat from the burning coal reaches over 700 degrees Fahrenheit at the surface... where sulphur smoke permeates the air... where the buildings were shored up with columns of bricks against their sides. Maybe it does seem simple, but as a child of coal country, I know it was not. To leave the only home many of them knew was worse than anything the fire could do to them. My heart goes out to them...

This is my tribute to the people of this town. This small town where coal may have been king, but now, with the dead trees littering the once green hillsides surrounding the town, the highways criss-crossed with cracks in them 2 feet deep and the stench of sulphur smoke rising from the ground, it's more like the devil himself has moved in.

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