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

Centralias PA, couches

Photo: Flickr/jesiehart

Half a century ago, Centralia, Pennsylvania was a bustling coal mining town. It had schools, churches, theatres, and grocery stores. It was home to more than 2,000 people. Today, the once-thriving industrial community is 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. 

It’s not completely clear how the fire started in May 1962, 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, essentially creating a giant underground inferno. 

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.

Now Centralia has been burning for almost 50 years. 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

NOW WATCH: Executive Life videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.