Centralia wasn’t the only town directly affected by the devastating mine fire. Just to the southeast of Centralia lies the former site of Byrnesville Pennsylvania, which also struggled with the fire’s deadly gases, heat, and ground subsidence.
Compared to Centralia, whose population was once over 2000, Byrnesville was more of a small village. It was founded in 1856 by the Byrnes family and other Irish Catholic miners. In 1985, there were around 75 people living there. However, due to the effects of the mine fire, the town was entirely abandoned by 1996.
Byrnesville PA was in just as much danger from the mine fire as Centralia. After it began in 1962, the fire began moving to the northwest and southeast. This placed Byrnesville directly in its path.
Byrnesville was located to the east of Route 61. By the late 70s, steam could be seen rising along the road, especially on the eastern side near Byrnesville. It was clear that mine fire was approaching the town and would impact its residents as well. The barriers that had been installed between Byrnesville and the fire failed, just as they had on the Centralia side too.
By the early 1980s, it was increasingly obvious that the mine fire was endangering those living in Centralia and Byrnesville. In late 1983, the United States Congress approved $42 million to help move families impacted by the fire. Relocation offers were extended to residents in both towns.
Relocation was just as painful for those in Byrnesville, Pennsylvania as it was in Centralia. Many of the families had roots extending back to the founding of the little village. They and their relatives had lived their whole lives there.
For many years one notable family, the Reilleys, has maintained a shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary at the former edge of town. It is still visible on the right side of Route 61 when traveling south from Centralia to Ashland. In fact, this stretch of road by the shrine used to be called Byrnesville Road until Route 61 was moved due to mine fire subsidence.
It’s important to remember that Centralia wasn’t the only place affected by the mine fire. And, while the buildings of Byrnesville PA are gone, the memories of the families and the people who once lived there remain.