If you were driving north on route 61 in the heart of the Anthracite coal region in Pennsylvania, you may have come across a detour of 61 at the top of a hill in a community called Ashland. Thinking nothing of it you would have followed the detour signs that took you around some possible road construction or a bridge being worked on. You're then reconnected with Rt. 61 again.
Many have followed this path in recent years with little knowledge of the on going story of this little detour and the town that no longer is really a town. If you had disregarded the detour signs and make the right that 61 north takes through Ashland your first clue that something isn't right would be the abrupt end to route 61 as it once was.
Centralia is a borough in Columbia County, Pennsylvania, United States. Its population has dwindled from over 1,000 residents in 1981 to 12 in 2005 and 9 in 2007, as a result of a 45-year-old mine fire burning beneath the borough. Centralia is now the least-populous municipality in Pennsylvania, with four fewer residents than the borough of S.N.P.J.
No one knows exactly how it started, but a coal vein has been burning under the Pennsylvania mining town of Centralia since 1961. Some trace it back to careless trash incineration in an open pit mine igniting a coal vein. The fire crawled, insidiously, along coal-rich deposits far from the miner's pick, venting hot and poisonous gases up into town, through the basements of homes and businesses.
With dawning horror, residents came to realize that the fire was not going to be extinguished, or ever burn itself out -- at least not until all the interconnected coal veins in eastern Pennsylvania were spent in some epic, meatless barbecue. As the underground fire worked its way under rows of homes and businesses, the threat of fires, asphyxiation, carbon monoxide poisoning, and long-term health impact became a daily concern.
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