May 27, 1962
A five-decade-and-counting fire starts under the town
The fire began when firefighters set a landfill on fire to clear it away for Memorial Day. The landfill was above an old coal strip mining pit and slowly the fire took hold of the mine. Firefighters were unable to extinguish or control the flame and the fire crept under the surface until it made its way downtown, affecting residents.
In the 1980s, after almost twenty years of burning, the town’s conditions became hazardous. Carbon monoxide levels were dangerous and sinkholes opened. Attempts to evacuate the town began, as Pennsylvania bought-out residents then leveled their houses. Some stayed even after Pennsylvania condemned the remaining buildings, and locals who stayed sued for their right to continue living in their homes. The 8 people still living in Centralia won their case in 2013 and have been allowed to stay for the remainder of their lives.
Science journalist Julia Calderone reported in an article for Business Insider that the fire covered six square miles in 2015 and spreads at a rate of 75 feet per year. Because of the size of the mines and the rate of consumption, Calderone estimated the fire could burn as long as 250 years.
The underground coal mine fire was an inspiration to the movie Silent Hill.