Fire in the hole
It's a strange quality we humans have – the ability to create an unholy mess and walk away from it, rather than clearing it up. I understand the inclination (I have kids after all), and there are days when it's tempting just to close the door of my house, walk down the street and get a new one, rather than have to deal with the mountains of mess. I'm exaggerating, of course, but when you hear about the perplexing case of Centralia, Pennsylvania, you'll understand what I'm talking about.
It's a bit like the premise of Wall-E – humans wreck the planet beyond habitability and move on, build a big ship and take off into space. In 1962, a trash fire ignited a fire in an abandoned coal mine below the small town of Centralia. It proved impossible to contain, so it was left to burn – for a very long time. In 1981, a 12-year-old boy fell down a sinkhole produced by the raging fires. And the government finally stepped in.
Discovering it would cost half a billion dollars to put the fire out, however, they encouraged the residents to move out of town, and basically shut Centralia down. Today, only 11 people live there, and most of the buildings have been razed to the ground. The US Postal Service has even revoked its post code.
Amazingly, the fire is still burning, and Centralia has gained some notoriety as a ghost town – its ashen landscape, skeleton trees and plumes of toxic smoke giving it an eerie quality. And its occasional, unexpected sinkholes giving it an air of random danger.
Some of the residents who remain are doing so for a reason. According to the Centralia Project, there's an even more sinister side to all this. If they move, the government will be able to buy up the rest of the land in the town, and profit from mining the valuable coal vein beneath it. And while people still live there, the land is still owned by the town. If this is true, it makes the gross neglect even more disturbing – as it is intentional. RM