Friday, February 05, 2010

A Plot Device Right Out of Clive Cussler

Just read the news today about Centralia, Pennsylvania. That's an old mining town that, in 1962, had a fire start in a coal seam. Bureaucratic delays allowed it to burn and burn, until now, this fire underneath the town is impossible to put out. It has been burning for 48 years.

The last remaining members of the town believe that the fire was allowed to go on so long because the government wanted the mining and mineral rights. Frankly, knowing our government (both Democrat and Republican) I wouldn't put it past them.

Few remain as 1962 Pa. coal town fire still burns

The fire began at the town dump and ignited an exposed coal vein. It could have been extinguished for thousands of dollars then, but a series of bureaucratic half-measures and a lack of funding allowed the fire to grow into a voracious monster — feeding on millions of tons of slow-burning anthracite coal in the abandoned network of mines beneath the town.

At first, most Centralians ignored the fire. Some denied its existence, choosing to disregard the threat.

That changed in the 1970s, when carbon monoxide began entering homes and sickening people. The beginning of the end came in 1981, when a cave-in sucked a 12-year-old boy into a hot, gaseous void, nearly killing him. The town divided into two warring camps, one in favor of relocation and one opposed.

Finally, in 1983, the federal government appropriated $42 million to acquire and demolish every building in Centralia. Nearly everyone participated in the voluntary buyouts; by 1990, Census figures showed only 63 people remaining.

Two years later, Gov. Robert Casey decided to shut the town, saying the fire had become too dangerous. The holdouts fought condemnation, blocking appraisers from entering their homes. The legal process eventually ground to a halt.

Until recently, Lokitis Jr., who works a civilian job with the state police in Harrisburg, had been one of Centralia's most vocal defenders — star of a 2007 documentary on Centralia. He expressed hope that it could stage a comeback, claiming the fire had gone out or moved away.

State officials say the fire continues to burn uncontrolled and could for hundreds of years, until it runs out of fuel. One of their biggest concerns is the danger to tourists who often cluster around steam vents on unstable ground.

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