Centralia, PA… Population -666

Centrialia warning sign

In a small borough of Columbia County located in the regional coal mine hills of Pennsylvania there sits a quaint little town, a ghost town you might say. It’s past is written in the myths and legends of many a story teller and it’s actual history is nothing less than extraordinary. A town that was condemned to be a hell on earth as flames ate away underground consuming the population and housing structures within this little town called Centralia. A coal mining town that on one fateful day would be the closest thing you could get to being in hell itself.

Does this story sound like something from Bloody Valentine meets Drag me to Hell? Well if it does I wouldn’t be surprised, because this isn’t a new movie about to be released, but an actual town in Pennsylvania that to this very day is still burning underground from a mine fire that started in 1962, that’s over 48 years ago, and as weird as this may seem, it is 100% true and accurate.

Centralia is a small town located in the coal mining region of Pennsylvania and supported a population of over 2000 residents back in 1965 to a staggering population of 9 people as of 2010. This is mainly impart to the fact that a mine fire had started back so many years ago. The cause of the fire is still not solidified, but one story that seems to be the front runner is one theory that a group of volunteer fire men had been hired by the borough to clean up a landfill near and abandoned strip-mine pit, which happened to be located next to the Fellows Cemetery. The fire fighters ignited the landfill to burn off the waste and unfortunately was not extinguished properly thus resulting in the strip-mine catching on fire.

The fire was unable to be extinguished due to his high level of fuel, ie coal veins, and oxygen readily available. The scene of the fire and town was described by David DeKok back in 1986 as “This was a world where no human could live, hotter than the planet Mercury, its atmosphere as poisonous as Saturn’s. At the heart of the fire, temperatures easily exceeded 1,000 degrees [Fahrenheit]. Lethal clouds of carbon monoxide and other gases swirled through the rock chambers.”

To this day the town is in a state of shut down and it is very difficult to gain access to due to its unstable ground with sink holes of fire and smoke opening up at a moment’s notice and the toxic fumes emanating from the ground. There are currently 9 people still living around the town of Centralia that the local government is always trying to relocate so they can be placed in a safer area, but these are much older people who have no real place to go and want to stay with their beloved town till the very end.

Now seeing as how there are the yarns twisted around a campfire this town of fiery hell is not exempt, I have done research on this town for many years and the one story that I enjoy the most hearing goes as such:

The small town of Centralia, Pennsylvania was a struggling town and could barely support the people living there. Jobs were scarce and people began to move away in droves for better and greener pastures of promised work. It was then that the founder of the town made a pact with the devil to become one of the top producing coal mining towns in the United States. However this was a limited deal and Satan would come back, after a specified amount of time, to claim the small town as his very own and to do with as he felt. Many years went by and the legend was forgotten about, except for by the priest who had been one of the only people against the ritualistic pact in the first place. Fast forward to 1962 and the day the devil came to claim his soon to be hell on earth. The priest warned everyone of the impending doom, but to no avail no one would listen. As the fire erupted in the mines and the small town began to sink within the earth down to its hellish prison, one building stood firm. The church was untouched by the underground fire while the rest of the surrounding buildings were not so lucky. It was with the priest’s final breath on his death bed years later the church finally succumbed to the fate as all other buildings around it and sunk into the fiery pit below.

Now like I said this is one of my favorite versions of why the fire started in this small town in the hills and would love for this to have some ounce of truth to it, but alas there is none. I am very readily able to believe that a bunch of volunteer firefighters set a landfill ablaze to get rid of it and then didn’t extinguish it correctly. I mainly think that this version is true because I have seen it happen so many times out in my small wooded area of this state, it’s not that hard to believe.

Be safe and remember only YOU can prevent forest fires,
Jon Bolton