By the early 1980s, the mine fire in Centralia, Pennsylvania was growing worse and increasingly threatening the people who lived there. GAI, Inc., a private geotechnical engineering company, was hired to review the situation and propose a solution to finally contain the fire. What they eventually came up with was so drastic, it might easily have been called Centralia’s “Nuclear Option.”
GAI’s review and associated containment plan took months to complete. It analyzed mountains of data about Centralia PA, its abandoned mines, and the geology of the surrounding area. GAI also explored the beginnings of the fire, the current location of the burn, and the previous, failed attempts to stop it.
Finally on July 12, 1983 the findings were announced to the public. At that time, the mine fire was determined to be under 195 acres and burning in the Skidmore, Seven Foot, and Buck Leader coal veins. It was suggested that the fire could eventually grow to a maximum size of 3,700 acres of land.
GAI’s report made it clear that containing the Centralia mine fire would neither be easy nor cheap. The plan to contain the fire would require excavating a trench of massive proportions. This would need to be 3,700 feet long and 450 feet in depth – deep enough to hold a 45 story office building!
Worse yet, the trench would cut through the middle of the town. Although it would eventually be filled in with incombustible material to prevent the mine fire from moving further west, half of the borough of Centralia Pennsylvania would be destroyed while excavating it. The whole project would take years to complete.
If the damage caused by GAI’s plan wasn’t “nuclear” enough, there was always the price tag. GAI estimated it would cost a jaw-dropping $660 million to complete the project. This was over 100 times more expensive than the 1965 rejected plan to contain the mine fire. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, $660 million in 1983 is roughly equivalent to $1.5 billion in 2015. Today these cost estimates are still shocking.
It is no wonder that in August of 1983 the majority of Centralia PA’s residents voted to be relocated. After years of struggling with the mine fire, the “nuclear option” proposed by GAI to stop the fire and level half of the town was more than most could bear.