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Cracked highway from subsurface coal fire (Route 61, near Centralia, Pennsylvania, USA) 3 | by James St. John
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Cracked highway from subsurface coal fire (Route 61, near Centralia, Pennsylvania, USA) 3

Centralia Underground Coal Fire, as seen in summer 2006. (looking ~southwest)


Centralia, Pennsylvania is a famous place for observing the effects of an underground coal fire. The fire started in 1962, and for many years, smoke & fumes have risen from yards, streets, and people's basements. Folks started moving out in the late 1960s. Attempts to put out the fire failed.


The fire commenced in late May 1962. Several stories are around that purport to explain the start of the fire. The most plausible is that the fire was accidentally set by firemen hired by town officials - they were burning garbage in the town dump to increase space (or to diminish foul odors), in preparation for an upcoming holiday (Memorial Day). An exposed coal bed was ignited, and it's been burning ever since. It'll burn forever (as long as the coal seam exists).


In early 1981, a smoking sinkhole formed underneath a young boy, and he sank down to his waist. He tried wriggling out, but a larger, deeper hole formed around him. He hung on to plant roots at about 3 feet down to keep from falling further. His cousin was yards away, and came to his rescue. The smoke was so dense that the cousin could barely see the kid's red cap only three feet down. He grabbed blindly into the hole & dragged the boy out.


Most Centralia families left after this incident, which made national headlines. Centralia is now a ghost town - the last Centralia residents left in early 2010. Before then, an occasional standing house could still be seen in “town”.


Centralia now consists of abandoned, overgrown streets and alleyways, with sidewalks and front steps leading nowhere.


The burning coal horizon is the Buck Mountain Coal (also known as the Number 5 Coal), at the base of the Llewellyn Formation (mid-Desmoinesian Stage, upper Middle Pennsylvanian). The bed defines the stratigraphic contact between the Llewellyn Formation and the underlying Pottsville Formation. Anthracite and semi-anthracite coal beds of the Llewellyn Formation have tremendous economic significance in eastern Pennsylvania. The most important coal interval in the Llewellyn is the Mammoth Coal Zone (= Number 8 Coal & Number 8½ Coal & Number 9 Coal).


Seen here is a 2006 view of an abandoned stretch of Route 61 near Centralia. Subsidence has destroyed the road - the asphalt is buckled, bowed, cracked, fissured, and smoking. The main fissure down the center of the road has noticeably widened since the year 2000 (compare with previous two pictures in this photo album).


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Taken on December 17, 2012