May 27, 2014 | Barb Carr

Remembering An Accident: How Centralia, Pennsylvania Became a Ghost Town


At one time there were over 1,000 residents who lived in the mining town of Centralia, Pennsylvania. By 2010, it was a ghost town of ten residents. What happened?

Fifty-two years ago, on May 27, 1962, an exposed coal seam was ignited by a fire in the town’s dump. The fire was intentionally set by the fire department to tidy up the town for Memorial Day.

After the coal seam was ignited, fire spread underground throughout mines that ran under homes and businesses, threatening the town’s residents with potential poisonous gases and dangerous sinkholes. Rather than put the fire out which would have cost tremendous resources, the residents were relocated and buildings were taken down.

Books have been written about it, “Fire Underground” (David DeKok) and “The Day the Earth Caved In: An American Mining Tragedy” (Joan Quigley). Today it is a town filled with unkempt streets, smoldering earth, and ominous warning signs.

Still burning over 50 years later, it is ranked as one of the worst mine fires in the history of the United States.

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