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West Centre Street and South Locust Avenue
Centralia, PA 17921

Traveling on PA Routes 54/61 or following PA Route 42 to its terminus in southern Columbia County brings you to the former town of Centralia.

Without knowing what it is, you might simply drive through it on your way to another destination. It simply looks like a crossroads of an old town with most of its structures torn down. If you're not paying much attention, you might miss it altogether.

The story of modern day Centralia is one that is actually below ground. A fire rages on in the mines below the former town. One that's been burning for over 40 years.

The history of Centralia stretches back to the mid 1800s, when the area began to be mined. Centralia was incorporated as a borough in 1866. The town continued to thrive into the mid 1900s, when rail and mining operations began to shut down.

The exact cause of the fire remains contested. It was a result of a fire in the town's landfill in the early 1960s, either ignited by hot ash being dumped, or intentionally to burn down the amount of garbage.

An exposed coal seam below the landfill became ignited, and the fire began to spread below the area. Several attempts in the following years to extinguish the fire remained unsuccessful.

By the early 1980s, the full scale of the problem was realized. Congress appropriated funds to relocate the town's residents. In the following years, most residents would take the money offered by the government, but some refused. Today, approximately 10 residents remain, which is preventing any further work being done to extinguish the fire.

Several structures remain, including a few houses, the municipal building, a church, and the town's cemeteries. Otherwise, overgrown sidewalks, streets and yards remain as a reminder of the town that once was.

Just south of the town, a section of PA Route 61 was forced to be abandoned because of the mine fire. The pavement has been heaved up, and in some places is buckled, exposing cracks where steam and smoke rise.

Centralia has been the inspiration for many books, songs, documentaries, and even Hollywood productions, including the recent movie, Silent Hill.

The following websites were used as references for this article. For more details on the story of Centralia visit:

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Although an interesting place showing the negative effects of underground coal mining, keep in mind this is not a tourist attraction. There is no visitor's center, no museum, no facilities of any kind. In fact, you may be trespassing to see certain features, and the danger remains from the ground below in the form of the fire burning and gasses escaping. Visit here at your own risk.