By the late 1970s, the mine fire which started on the outskirts of Centralia, Pennsylvania was moving under the town itself. This caused numerous problems including ground subsidence and deadly gas emissions. The town’s residents were increasingly worried about the dangers it posed to them. Something had to be done.
One proposal was to install ventilation pipes within the mine fire burn zone. The hope was that the carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and methane gasses emitted by the fire would exit through the vents rather than filling the nearby homes.
The vent pipes were installed in 1980. These were made of metal and surrounded by a wire mesh to prevent anyone from touching them. The reason for this was that the hot gasses tended to heat the pipes to scalding temperatures. Huge, billowing clouds could be seen rising from the pipes, as if they were smokestacks for some factory deep underground.
After they were installed, residents noticed that the levels of deadly gasses within their homes began to drop. It was cause for celebration. However, the Centralia mine fire was a moving target. As it crept through the burn zone, many vent pipes became less effective and the gas levels within homes rose once again.
Residents were frustrated. Some even argued that the ventilation pipes had made the mine fire worse, since they were able to provide a new source of oxygen to the underground coal seam fire.
Along with vent pipes, boreholes were dug and capped within the Centralia, PA burn zone. These boreholes were used for monitoring the temperature, gases, and extent of the mine fire.
Field workers from Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) would frequently visit the town to take readings at the boreholes. Some of the borehole monitoring sites are still in use today.
At present, both the vent pipes and the borehole sites can be found in and around Centralia. The vent pipes have for many years been dormant, as the mine fire has moved to other areas of the burn zone. However, they still serve as a reminder of the dangers once faced by the residents and homes in Centralia, PA.