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13 December 2007

Centralia: Town On Fire Since 1962

Located in Pennsylvania, United States, Centralia's population has dwindled from over 1,000 residents in 1981 to 12 in 2005 and 9 in 2007, as a result of a 45-year-old mine fire burning beneath the town. In May 1962, the town council hired five members of the volunteer fire company to clean up the town landfill, located in an abandoned strip mine pit next to the Odd Fellows Cemetery. The firemen, as they had in the past, set the dump on fire, let it burn for a time, and then extinguished the fire, or so they thought.

In fact, the fire remained burning in the lower depths of the garbage and eventually spread through a hole in the rock pit into the abandoned coal mines beneath Centralia. Attempts to extinguish the fire were unsuccessful. State-wide attention to the fire began to increase, culminating in 1981 when 12-year-old boy fell into a sinkhole 45 metres deep that suddenly opened beneath his feet. He was saved after his older cousin pulled him from the mouth of the hole before he could plunge to his probable death. The incident brought national attention to Centralia and in 1984 U.S. Congress allocated more than $42 million for relocation efforts. Most of the residents accepted buyout offers and moved to the nearby communities but a handful of occupied homes remain in Centralia today.

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