One of the most amazing and nearly tragic parts of the Centralia, Pennsylvania story occurred on Valentine’s Day, 1981. On this day twelve year old Todd Domboski fell into a hot, steaming hole created by mine fire subsidence. He was lucky to have survived.
February 14, 1981 was a Saturday, and there was something going on. A group of important looking people were touring the town. They were actually Pennsylvania state politicians who were meeting with Centralia borough officials.
In a small town word travels fast, and Florence Domboski sent her son, Todd, on a mission to determine why the outsiders were there. Along the way, Todd noticed thin wisps of smoke coming from a grassy area near a tree. This piqued his curiosity, and he walked over to check it out.
Without warning the earth dropped out beneath him! He was now up to his knees in a muddy, smokey pit. As he struggled to pull himself out, the ground dropped further. Gases from the mine fire poured out, and he began to scream for help. All the while, he kept sinking until his head was several feet below the surface.
As he sunk, Todd managed to grasp onto an exposed root from the nearby tree. He continued to yell for help and held on for his life. In less than a minute, his cousin Eric Wolfgang appeared on the scene and was able to pull Todd to safety. He emerged covered with warm mud, but was otherwise okay.
Todd could very easily have been killed that day. Later analysis would show the hole was expelling deadly quantities of carbon monoxide. Had he remained in there for only a few more minutes, asphyxiation would have likely occurred.
Additionally, the source of the subsidence was eventually discovered. Old mine maps showed a shaft had once existed at that location. While it had been filled in, the mine fire gasses heated and loosened the material causing it to give way. The mine fire would continue to cause other subsidence over time.
The near death of Todd Domboski marked a turning point in the history of the Centralia, PA mine fire. The politicians in the town that day quickly learned of what happened and were able to see first hand the dangers faced by residents. This, along with the increased media attention, prompted state and federal officials to finally take action.
Source: Fire Underground by David DeKok