You and the Centralia, PA Fire (The First Youtube Video On)

You and the Centralia, PA Fire  (The First Youtube Video On)

This is the first Youtube video on you and the Centralia, PA Fire, which has been burning since 1962. If this borough of Pennsylvania looks familiar, that’s because it was the inspiration for Silent Hill, a psychological horror video game based on an abandoned community, which had been consumed by a malevolent force.

The mining of coal was effectively finished in the borough, for more than three decades, before the fire department, accidentally ignited the Centralia fire. All of their mining companies had gone out of business in 1929, after the crash of the New York stock exchange. By the time the Great Depression was over, gasoline and other fuels, had already replaced, the widespread use of coal.

The town dump was conveniently located in the heart of the borough of Centralia, adjacent to the cemetery of the church of Saint Ignatius. It was convenient except in springtime, when the Memorial Day parade would march down Main Street, and every participant taking that route, would be treated to a full view of the dump. That is why the local fire department was given the annual job, of burning off the trash, before the end of May. The dump was also the site of one of the old mining tunnels, and when the controlled burn of 1962, was not properly extinguished by the firemen, it spread to an underground vein of anthracite coal, a vein which everyone thought was played out.

Anthracite burns hot and slow. They tried to extinguish the embers using sand. They tried to smother it with ash. Thousands of gallons of water were poured into the tunnel, with no success. They dug one enormous trench to act as a firewall, but the combustion was already too far spread undergound. Then they ran out of money.

The coal fire advanced so slowly that it was barely perceptible for almost two decades, except for the occasional plume of poisonous smoke rising from the ground. Then in 1979 the owner of the local gas station, John Coddington, was measuring the level of fuel in the tank buried on the property. After extracting the long measuring stick, he noticed it was quite warm to the touch. Coddington, using a thermometer tied to the end of a piece of twine, measured the temperature of the gasoline. It was one hundred and seventy degrees fahrenheit. The temperature at which he had been pumping gas, into the cars of his customers, was only one hundred and thirty degrees.

There was no threat to life until two years later, when twelve year old Todd Domboski, was playing in his grandmother’s back yard. While investigating a wisp of smoke, rising from the ground near a black walnut tree, a fifty foot chasm opened suddenly beneath him. He fell in, and his head was below the surface, but he was able to grab onto the roots of the tree, and he cried for help. His cousin Eric could hear him yelling, but could not determine from which direction came the calls… until from the crest of a hill, he saw a bright orange hunting hat, still perched on top of Todd’s head. Eric pulled his cousin to safety. The bottom of the pit was later measured at 600 degerees fahrenheit, and the level of carbon monoxide was so high, that it would have meant the end, for Todd Domboski.

Pennsylvania state government in 1992, decreed the town evacuation was no longer voluntary, but mandatory. The highway which ran through the borough, Route 61, had been a main artery of statewide travel since Pennsylvania was founded. But the Centralia section of the highway was plagued with fissures, from which sulfurous gases belched. Now it was abandoned, and a permanent detour was built for Route 61. Today in the borough, a population of two thousand has dwindled to only seven. The few houses still standing require special chimneys, to vent the noxious fumes from underground.

Corruption is suspected of the state government which condemned the borough of Centralia. It may have been complicit in a fraud, allegedly perpetrated by the business interests, which would ultimately re-purchase the mining rights for the entire area.

There are other veins of coal here, deeper veins, worth many billions of dollars today. No expert testimony on the fire was ever sought by the state, before they condemned this town, using the power of eminent domain.

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