How a modern-day mine disaster has turned a Pennsylvania community into a ghost town
For much of its history, Centralia, Pennsylvania, had a population of around 2,000. By 1981, this had dwindled to just over 1,000―not unusual for a onetime mining town. But as of 2007, Centralia had the unwelcome distinction of being the state's tiniest municipality, with a population of nine. The reason: an underground fire that began in 1962 has decimated the town with smoke and toxic gases, and has since made history.
Fire Underground is the completely updated classic account of the fire that has been raging under Centralia for decades. David DeKok tells the story of how the fire actually began and how government officials failed to take effective action. By 1981 the fire was spewing deadly gases into homes. A twelve-year-old boy dropped into a steaming hole as a congressman toured nearby. DeKok describes how the people of Centralia banded together to finally win relocation funds―and he reveals what has happened to the few remaining residents as the fiftieth anniversary of the fire's beginning nears.
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Centralia, Pennsylvania, lived and died by anthracite coal. The town’s population peaked at 2,761 in 1890, but by 1981 had dwindled to just over 1,000—not unusual for a Pennsylvania mining town. But today Centralia has no more than a dozen inhabitants, and they are expected to be gone before long. The reason: an underground fire that has burned since 1962 in the labyrinth of abandoned coal mines beneath Centralia, making parts of the town uninhabitable.
By 1981 the fire was sending deadly gases into homes, making children sick, and one day a twelve-year-old boy dropped into a steaming hole and almost died as a U.S. congressman toured nearby. David DeKok describes how the fire began and how the majority of Centralia residents fought for and finally obtained relocation from the town, even as some of their neighbors claimed there was no threat. He reveals what happened to the few remaining diehards as the fiftieth anniversary of the fire’s beginning nears.
DeKok is a journalist who has been covering the Anthracite region of Pennsylvania since the late 1970s
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