There’s a longstanding conspiracy theory surrounding the mine fire in Centralia, Pennsylvania. And, why shouldn’t there be? It’s difficult to comprehend any logic that would explain why a government would let a town be destroyed by a raging, underground fire.
The Centralia conspiracy goes something like this: After the mine fire began in 1962, various government agencies along with private businesses conspired to get at the valuable anthracite coal under the town. By using ineffective firefighting methods, Centralia PA’s residents were eventually forced into a position where they had no choice but to leave their homes.
At first, state and federal governments made relocation a voluntary choice. However, some residents ultimately refused to leave. They stood between the government and the coal. As a result, the power of eminent domain was used to take the last remaining properties and evict more residents.
Indeed, the Centralia conspiracy theory was used as part of the last remaining residents’ defense arguments. They attempted to convince a judge that the government’s use of eminent domain was illegal and should be nullified. While they were unsuccessful in proving a conspiracy, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania agreed to settle and allowed the last residents to stay in 2013.
The mine fire conspiracy is certainly not baseless paranoia. During the first few decades of the fire, a number of businesses and entrepreneurs proposed digging out the fire in exchange for right to mine the coal. Unlike other borough’s in Pennsylvania, Centralia actually owns the mining rights to the mineral rights under the town. It would have to give these up before anyone could take out the coal.
In addition, the government’s inaction to address the mine fire problem in Centralia Pennsylvania looks suspicious. When layered with the questionable use of eminent domain, there appears to be ample grounds to suggest a conspiracy.
In his book, Fire Underground, David DeKok states that in all of his years researching the story of Centralia he has yet to find a single, hard piece of evidence proving there was government conspiracy to take the town’s coal. The judge who presided over the Centralia eminent domain case apparently agreed too.
The conspiracy theory has a number of other holes as well. While cheap bituminous coal has remained a strong business, the demand for Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal continues to decline. Why go through the trouble of moving the residents if the coal wasn’t profitable?
It’s even questionable how much coal is left under the town. Reports vary. Some sources ascertain there are significant reserves, while many others suggest that the majority of the coal was mined out decades ago. In additional, while eminent domain transferred residents’ properties to the state, the mineral rights are still held by the borough of Centralia.
Regardless of the counter arguments, the conspiracy theory lives on today. An upcoming documentary, RED ASH: Burning Rights, examines this in detail along with other aspects of the Centralia PA mine fire disaster.
People are drawn to conspiracy theories because sometimes the truth of a given situation simply defies logic. Could elected officials along with government agencies really be so uncaring, unthoughtful, and inept as to let an entire town burn? Or was it really a willful act done with the hope of profiting at the people’s expense?
You be the judge.