The Centralia PA mine fire has been constantly on the move since it started burning around Memorial Day of 1962. The underground fire follows a convoluted maze of abandoned coal mines and seams in the vicinity of the town.
The “burn zone” is loosely defined as any area where the fire is visibly impacting the surface. One of the most noticeable effects of the fire within the burn zone is clouds of steam. The intense heat of the mine fire causes ground water to vaporize and rise to the surface as steam.
Many people mistake the steam for smoke. Though, don’t let it fool you. Gases from the fire can also contain carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, mercury, and methane – all of which can be harmful to human health.
There are other signs of the Centralia mine fire within the burn zone. As the ground and rocks are are heated, any nearby vegetation begins to slowly burn at the roots and die. This has left large dead areas around the town.
One of the scariest effects of the mine fire is seen when a burning coal seam emerges near the surface. Here, the fire can be easily seen as it heats the ground and the rocks red hot. This phenomena is rarely visible today, as the fire has burned deeper into the mountain with time.
The burn zone also contains the threat of subsidence. This occurs when an abandoned mine shaft under the ground collapses. As the earth caves in, the surface above drops down anywhere from a few inches to several feet. Holes and fissures can quickly open and unexpectedly appear. Most famously, in 1981 Todd Domboski fell into a hole caused by ground subsidence.
The burn zone in Centralia, PA is actually composed of four fronts where the mine fire is currently active. The first is to the south end of the town and runs along Park and Peach Streets. Here, the fire is heading to the west. It is especially hot and visible in this area.
The second is along the old, abandoned second of Route 61. The mine fire is slowly creeping west up the mountain. The third is to the southeast near the former site of Byrnesville. Though, the fire isn’t very noticeable here anymore.
The fourth and final is further to the east along the edge of Big Mine Run Road. The fire first broke through this area in the early 1980s, providing spectacular views of red hot embers. Today, it has cooled and is not quite as active.
If you are planning on visiting Centralia, Pennsylvania and want to see the burn zone, consider checking out the first front. Head to the southern end of town and turn in one of the roads near the Saint Ignatius Church Cemetery.
Keep heading west a bit further. You are bound to see the bleak remains of forests on the hills above. Sometimes, clouds of steam can be see rising from the burning mine fire deep below. But be careful if you decide to pull off the road and walk around. The ground is known to be unstable within the burn zone!