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Like finding ghosttowns "back east!"

Centralia, Pennsylvania
GPS - N40° 48' 03.5" W076° 20' 35.8"
Route 61 - Road factor/Accessability - Paved
~2,110 "line of sight" miles from Las Vegas!

Centralia was a mining town in the anthracite coal region of Pennsylvania. In 1962, a new landfill was approved for the town with the proviso that entrances to mines in the footprint of the landfill be filled. This action was required to prevent an accidental fire in the landfill from spreading underground. In May of that year, a fire broke out in the landfill. After considerable difficulty, the fire appeared extinguished. Unbeknown to the firefighters, one mine entrance was not sealed as was required. Through this opening, the fire had traveled to to a seam of coal and the unknowing small community of Centralia was doomed.

Attempts had been made at extinguishing the underground fire. In 1969, a trench was dug around the burning area however it proved ineffective and the fire continued to spread. On Valentine's Day, 1981 Todd Domboski almost became the underground fire's first victim as a subsidence (sink hole) opened below his feet. Only four feet wide, the hole was over 100 feet deep! Today, large signs warn visitors of the danger of subsidences as well as the noxious fumes including carbon monoxide seeping up from the ground.

Two years after Domboski's close shave with death, the citizens of Centralia voted by a 3 - 2 margin to accept a state offer to buy them out and abandon the community. Residents received fair market value and $15,000 for moving expenses. While most residents have gone and their old homes razed, some dozen occupied residences remain in town.

Most Significant Other and I visited Centralia in October 2003. Of course we snapped photos of the damage caused by the underground coal fire. Foliage displaying fall colors contrasted with the skeletons of trees whose roots have been destroyed by the heat. It's easy to see where the seam of coal ran - A line of dead trees, bushes and grass marks its location. An easy stroll down the closed portion of route 61 leads you to where the fire has passed under the roadway. Wide crevices have split the blacktop and wisps of acrid smoke curl from the gaps.

We were lucky during our visit to find a couple of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Management employees conducting heat tests. At a depth of ten feet, they recorded 270°, at twenty-five feet, 360°. The highest temperatures they found exceeded 750°. Surprisingly, those temperatures are from areas where the fire had passed through years earlier. Heat and smoke backtrack through the burned coal seam making it difficult to located the current fire location.

Many books have been written about Centralia and its troubles. An interesting amateur documentary showing scenes of the town and smoke billowing from the ground can be found  here.

After a couple of hours exploring, I'd had enough. No matter how many times I tried to clear my throat,  I couldn't get the taste of Centralia out of my mouth. Fortunately, a trip to the nearby Yeungling Brewery in Pottsville and a short brewery tour later, we had discovered the antidote to Centralia mouth!

Update: MSO and I visited Centralia again on December 31, 2003. Christmastime in Centralia. We stayed at Granny's, an old time motel that has served travelers for decades. On our first trip, we stayed in the motel section which featured typical motel motels furnishing but our New Year's Eve stay had us in a room above the restaurant. The room is best described as faux Victorian but you decide.

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