A short 0,7 miles section of Pennsylvania Route 61 (PA 61) is officially destroyed, in the town of Centralia, in Columbia County, in the north-central part of the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. The road is consumed by an underground mine fire since 1962. The cause of the fire is suspected to be from a trash burning that hit a coal strip in a cave.
Is Centralia still burning?
The fire still burns today beneath about four hundred acres of surface land, and it's still growing. It's not completely clear how the fire started, but most historical accounts hold that burning trash in a landfill near an abandoned strip mine ignited an exposed coal vein. The fire spread throughout a labyrinth of coal mines beneath the town, creating a giant underground inferno. Today Centralia is a modern ghost town. No one knows exactly how it started, but a coal vein has been burning under the Pennsylvania mining town of Centralia since 1962. The fire burns in underground coal mines at depths of up to 300 feet over an eight-mile stretch of 3,700 acres. The fire continues to burn. At its current rate, it could burn for over 250 more years. There used to be signs around town warning visitors danger.
The town has been also a model for various movies that wanted to give a hell-like appearance in a ghost town. A sharp turn deposits the four-lane PA 61 onto Byrnesville Road, a narrow two-lane road upgraded by PennDOT following the closure of a severely damaged mile-long stretch of PA 61 in 1994.
The citizens of Centralia abandoned the unsafe town in 1984. Centralia is not an official tourist attraction. The gases are considered dangerous, so proceed at your own risk. The old Hwy 61 that used to bring traffic to Centralia has been destroyed by the underground fire. It is constantly subsiding with smoke usually billowing out from the pits and separations that will continue to get wider and deeper day-by-day. This is called subsidence. The old highway 61 is now buckled and cracked. The new highway section totally bypasses the former town site.
Is Centralia safe?
Visitation is not recommended due to the many hazards associated with abandoned mine sites and coal mine fires in particular. Today, there are fewer places where gases can be found venting. The area encompassed by the Centralia Mine Fire is extremely dangerous. Walking and/or driving in the immediate area could result in serious injury or death. The most unstable ground with the borough collapsed years ago. There are dangerous gases present, and the ground is prone to sudden and unexpected collapse. As such, your car will provide little protection in the event that you get into a car accident due to the conditions. This fact strongly discourages anyone from visiting the immediate area.
Pic: Nate Mueller