Tour The Pennsylvania Ghost Town That's Been Burning For 50 Years

Centralias PA, stay out

Photo: Flickr/Proper Pictures

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. That was 50 years ago on May 27, 1962.

Half a century later, Centralia, Pennsylvania still burns.  

The once bustling coal-mining town — then home to over 2,000 people — is now a smouldering expanse of overgrown streets, cracked pavement and charred trees. Everywhere, streams of toxic gas spew into the air from hundreds of fissures in the ground. 

Workers battled the fire for almost two decades, but all attempts to extinguish the massive blaze proved unsuccessful. 

In 1981, amid growing health concerns over dangerous levels of carbon monoxide, Centralia’s plight was launched onto the national radar when a 12-year-old boy fell into a sinkhole. Decades of intense underground heat was causing the pavement to crumble.

In the following years, Congress set aside more than $42 million to relocate residents. Abandoned houses were bulldozed to the ground. Some townspeople, however, refused to leave.

In 2010, the town’s last nine residents were fighting to keep the state from evicting them and demolishing their homes.

Experts say there is enough coal to fuel the fire for another 250 years.

Centralia is a borough in the northeastern mountains of Pennsylvania. In 2002, the U.S. Postal Service revoked the town's ZIP code, 17927.

A bird's-eye view shows very few remaining buildings and swaths of brown vegetation.

Near the highway, a sign warns of the dangers ahead.

There is some evidence of life by the town's edge.

Another unwelcoming sign.

The underground fire caused roads to shift and buckle.

The branch of Route 61 that runs through the town was permanently closed when it became too expensive to repair.

The abandoned highway is now covered with graffiti.

This road is not safe for cars.

The trees have been bleached white from the fumes.

Smoke billows from the ground.

Old chairs rest in the foreground of a devastated landscape.

Here's an abandoned drive-in movie theatre.

The carcass of a brick building.

One of the few remaining homes in Centralia. Brick buttresses hold the walls up. Only a short distance away, coal fires still rage.

A church on a hillside overlooking Centralia is also still standing.

The ground is so hot that a match will light on contact.

Despite the dangers, Centralia is still a popular tourist spot.

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