Published Somedays

Centralia, PA

(updated: Sep 7, 2009)

There was a town here once. But then a coal mine caught on fire back in the 60's and it's been burning ever since. The entire town has been relocated, except for a handful of people who refused to leave. There is more information at the following sites so I won't repeat the details here, but it is a very interesting story:
Centralia Pennsylvania
The story

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This is a fascinating study in modern ruins. I had just finished the book, The World Without Us, which I highly recommend. The author writes about what would happen should people disappear, and now I was actually seeing a prime example of it in person.

And what was even more interesting was that I actually got to witness what had changed since my last visit about five years ago. It had become so overgrown that I drove right by the place and had to make a U-turn.

A lot of people come here to check out the smoke still billowing from the ground, still continuing to burn after all these years - it's sort of become a tourist attraction.

But I can go places they can't, because not only did I come here to see what had changed, but I came to ride as well. There are miles of fireroads in the woods that are used mostly by motocross and quads and to shoot and dump garbage, but they're not too bad for pedaling -- there's a couple of really rocky sections, plus you get some nice views.

So the remainder of this story is best told in pictures…

On the way to Centralia. This is an active strip mine in Shamokin, PA. Across the street is a place you can get a tour of an old coal mine. This area of the country was once the coal capital of the world, now reduced to a handful of decaying towns with little industry and high unemployment.

Mt. Carmel, PA. Busy state highways go right through the town center, destroying any remaining character of the town. The roads have been freshly repaved, while the buildings on either side rot and decay.

Another active strip mine just before Centralia. Note the giant dump truck in the upper left corner of the picture.

Smoke billows out from a mine that has been burning since the 60's. I slipped on some loose rock while climbing down to get this shot. My hand landed on a rock and it was hot. Note the moss growing on the rocks.

Some more wisps of smoke. Not as much as five years ago. The place has a funny Sulphur-like smell.

Visible evidence of Centralia is disappearing fast. Another five years and the roads will be completely reclaimed by vegetation.

This is why I drove right past it -- there's nothing to see from the road anymore. Compare this pic to one from 1983 below.

Centralia in 1983 (not the author's photo).

Main St. Centralia, PA today.

Curb-lined street which used to be lined with houses. The government now owns all the land.

This is my favorite part -- old highway 61. Closed off due to the mine fires and re-routed. This is about a mile long section of abandoned road.

Open fissure in road with smoke coming out. Not as much as five years ago, but the ground is still hot. In fact, you hear all these creaking sounds. I realized that it was due to the guardrail expanding and contracting from the heat.

People stick trash in here to see if they can get it to start burning.

Trees growing in the middle of the highway. Soon this will be engulfed by nature.

This was a great rocky downhill trail off the fireroads

Overlook. The town of Ashland is down below to the left. Folks from Centralia may have relocated here. However, the mine fire is headed here next.

These are everywhere along the overlook.

Oh, but it is a playground.

Ok, last time I was here I ran into several large holes in the ground with smoke coming out. I went back looking for these holes to get photos and they were gone. Instead they made all these clearings and put these pipes in the ground. I stupidly stuck my face over the pipe opening and got a blast of horrific Sulphur smell it nearly knocked me out. My guess is that they are still trying to stop the spread of the fire.

Another overlook. I took some pieces of coal from this pile. My guess is that at one time the entire mountain was bare from strip mining.

Old and new. Windmills now line the top of the ridge overlooking Centralia.


Filed Under: Ride Reports > Pennsylvania > Centralia


1. Erik (VanGo) said...

Thanks for posting these pictures. I was on a hike not too long ago and was telling someone about this place so I'll have to pass these along. I first read about Centralia in the book, A Walk in the Woods. They had to relocate part of the Appalachian Trial after the fires. Very neat perspective. Thanks.

Sep 7, 2009 @ 11:20 AM

2. Ben said...

That is cool. This has been on "Engineering Disasters" quite a few time before, but never with such perspective.

Sep 7, 2009 @ 12:28 PM

3. Eddy said...

Thanks for the history lesson today. I had never heard of this disaster and found the story both interesting and tragic.

Sep 7, 2009 @ 2:40 PM

4. PSEUDONYM said...


Sep 11, 2009 @ 10:56 PM

5. .PaT. said...

Check out this video i found on Centralia,
I recognized some of the scenes from your pictures.

Sep 26, 2009 @ 1:05 PM


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