There's Another Pennsylvania Ghost Town That's Been Burning For 97 Years

This weekend, we took you on a virtual tour of Centralia, a ghost town in Pennsylvania that’s been burning for 50 years as a result of a mine fire. 

The underground blaze that threatens Centralia, however, is just one example of the hundreds of coal mine fires burning today across the United States. A majority are found in Pennsylvania, home to the world’s largest deposits of coal.  

Reader Joseph Gregory brought one such town to our attention. Laurel Run Borough in Eastern Pennsylvania, where Gregory was raised, is the site of a mine fire that started in 1915 and is still raging, 97 year later.    

Because coal fires burn underground, they are nearly impossible — and extremely costly — to extinguish. As a result, the smouldering coal deposits tend to burn for decades until the fuel source runs out. 

These fires, which vent toxic fumes and pose serious health risks to people, are either started by humans or natural causes, such as lightning or forest fires.

A miner’s abandoned lamp that set fire to timber, and eventually ignited a nearby coal vein, started the Laurel Run fire.

“Like Centralia, [Laurel Run] was the object of a joint Commonwealth and U.S. ‘redevelopment’ project in the 1960s,” Gregory told us in an email. “Home owners, including my parents, in-laws, aunts, uncles, childhood friends and neighbours were forced to sell, under threat of fines. Every home, the school, the borough hall and our church were  bulldozed. To date the ‘redevelopment’ has produced only promises of a park and the return of the land to heirs of the previous owners. Only an overgrown mountainside has materialised.”

Gregory has been collecting photographs of what the town was and is now. He was kind enough to share some of his images. 

Laurel Run BoroughOne of the side streets, South Dickerson, looking south toward where the Red Ash mine fire started.

Photo: Joseph Gregory

Laurel mine fireThe same street looking north, toward the Primitive Methodist Church on East Northampton Street. The yellow school building at the far end of North Dickerson St. My family’s home is the white one first on the left of the photo. None of the buildings remain today. Just past the school, steam and gas still vents from the fire.

Photo: Joseph Gregory

mine foireA Ferrari on its way up the Giant’s Despair ( the site of hill climb races for over a hundred years) some time in the early 1960s. None of the buildings in the photo exist today.

Photo: Joseph Gregory

Laurel mine fireThe Laurel Run Primitive Methodist Church, which is also now gone.

Photo: Joseph Gregory

WWII monumentThe memorial that stood in front of the church. It was moved to the part of the borough over the mountain called Oliver’s Mills and erected in front of the volunteer fire department.

Photo: Joseph Gregory

Laurel mine fireDedication of the WWII honour Roll probably in the fall of 1942.

Photo: Courtesy of Joseph Gregory

Laurel mine fireJuly 4th Service probably taken in the mid 1950s at the monument where it stood in front of the church.

Photo: Courtesy of Joseph Gregory

SEE ALSO: Tour The Pennsylvania Ghost Town That’s Been Burning For 50 Years > 

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