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An in-depth View
Film and Song
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Mine Fire History
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Mine Fire Chronology
Satellite, Aerial Photos
360 Virtual Tours
Downtown Panoramic
Centralia Multimedia
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Memories of Centralia

Panoramic Virtual Tours:

Mine Fire Hot Spot
Downtown Centralia Mainstreet Centralia Damaged Hillside

Knoebels Amusement Park (only 15 miles from Centralia!) 
Ghost Towns
Area 51 - Groom Lake
Abandoned PA Turnpike
Defunct Amusement Parks
Abandoned Places


Photo Updates:

Centralia in HDR

July 2006 360? Virtual Tour of Downtown Centralia PA

Centralia's Neighbor:
Byrnesville, Pa

Zeisloft's Mobil
Gas Station

July 5th 2008
Centralia PA

Centralia PA 2008
January Photos and 
commentary by
Donald Davis

2006 Photos

2005 Photos
of Centralia


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2004 Photos
of Centralia

2003 photos

of Centralia

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2002 photos

of Centralia

360 Degree Virtual Tours of Centralia PA

Fire In The Hole
by Kristie Betts
A fictional story based on Centralia

The Little
Town That Was

by Donald Hollinger


RESIDENTS TO SAVE THE BOROUGH OF CENTRALIA - FACT SHEET #6 - MARCH 1984 - This "Fact Sheet" was transcribed from a photocopied, original March 1984 newsletter from a Centralia organization called "Residents To Save The Borough Of Centralia".  Read the News Letter here

130th Anniversary
of the 1877 Shamokin Uprising and the Great Railroad Strike .. Read More


Centralia Today
A Photo Documentary
of Centralia today.


Mine Emergency Response Program
Details from the
Mine Rescue Manual


And Yet, Centralia  
Still Burns Today
A Look at the Centralia Coal Mine Fire

By Johnathan F. Beltz
March 13, 1998



The Community

It would seem that what has just been told would be the main disaster of Centralia, that of the fire's rampant path through the ground, but it wasn't. Another disaster occurred here, the destruction of a community, and the ties that bind people together as one. "The Centralia story is one of residents who lost faith in government and in each other. It is the story of an ecological disaster that stripped away the facade of community to reveal a segmented, uncoordinated collective that was ill prepared to unite in the interests of the town as a whole." 28 One of the differences between Centralia and other publicized disasters such as floods and hurricanes is that those are natural disasters, whereas Centralia was a chronic technological disaster (CTD). In a natural disaster, such as a hurricane, there is a warning period, a destruction period, and then the community that suffered property damages typically comes together and grieves for a few days, but then begins the inevitable chore of rebuilding their homes and lives. No one is expected to stop the hurricane from happening. Everyone becomes stronger as a result, and people bond closely with each other. Relief money often flows in if the destruction is bad enough to warrant to being declared a disaster area, and everyone sympathizes with the victims. This was not the case at Centralia, as it was never declared a disaster area.

For one thing, the physical danger of the fire was not nearly as visible, except for the smoke and steam, because it was underground. Had the fire been above ground, it would most likely have been put out upon its conception, with a unified effort and immediate action. When a building is on fire and the fire department is called, they don't finish two more hands of cards at the firehouse, they move to quickly extinguish the blaze. Being that the major effects of the fire were not nearly as visible as that of natural cases except in a few isolated areas, this made it harder for outside agencies and governments to admit there was a problem, and also made it extremely difficult for the residents to deal with. Had the fire been above ground, the community most certainly have dealt with it and demanded it extinguished, with a unified voice. This was not the case at Centralia. A large contingent of residents, most of them elderly such as Helen Womer, did not want the fire extinguished, or did not want the town dug up as a result of extinguishing the fire. They did not consider the fire to be a threat to their home. These are the same people that remained in Centralia, refusing to take part in the federal government's buyout program. To understand why people refused to leave Centralia, a look at small town life is needed.

In many communities in Small Town, USA, there is a strong sense of community pride and togetherness that runs throughout the locale and ties it together with common bonds and experiences. I should know, I grew up in one, and I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. In a small town, everyone gets to know one another, and most people spend their whole lives, or a great portion of them, living in that same town until they die. The crime rates are incredibly low, and rapes and murders are virtually unheard of. People can walk down the street with a sense of security, and a sense of trust. Its a land where people lend a hand to one another when assistance is needed. People are nicer, even to total strangers. You don't need to worry about traffic jams and air pollution, like in the cities. People around here think I'm nuts when I tell them I enjoy driving so much, because they don't realize that where I'm from, you can actually drive, as opposed to frantically fleeing down a crowded freeway, hoping you don't get hit by some fool swerving across four lanes at once. Centralia used to be such a community, but this sense of community was killed by the mine fire. "There was a time, when people trusted one another here...This was a real town once, not one of those cities where people get mugged while their neighbors watch...This used to be the friendliest town. Didn't matter what the problem was, six people would be there to lend a hand. This was a good place to live. People could rely on one another, not like now." 29 Had the fire been above ground, this sense of togetherness would surely have prevailed.

The first complication is that the fire was underground, and that it was not a natural disaster, but a technological one, which are relatively new by comparison, so people are not as used to or familiar with in coping with them. It made it harder to determine the victims, and added to the general misunderstanding level between people affected and those who were not, because they didn't have anything to compare it to. Dealing with such a technological disaster requires innovation, since few precedents exist, such as Centralia and Bhopal. Innovation is something that the governmental agencies expected to save the town did not possess.

The governments' constant denial of the existence of a problem in Centralia did not help matters, but added to the conflict between residents. A good deal of the population in Centralia that was concerned about the fire was perceived as 'young', which meant under 50. The other half was older than 50, and wanted to live out their remaining years in the peace and security that was their home of Centralia. This is why some people refused to leave. They couldn't admit that their homes were no longer safe, insisting there was no problem. They insisted that while there may be a fire, that it wasn't in the limits of Centralia, that it was out in the surrounding township. They were viewed as unrealistic by those affected by the fire's gases. The opposition was young (younger than 50), and raising children, so their primary concern was fir their childrens' safety, even if it meant abandoning their precious Centralia. They were seen as trying to get something for nothing from the government, and destroying the sense of community in Centralia in the process. Adding to the sense of not being able to understand what the other side was going trough, was one's relative location in the borough, whether you were on the 'hot side' where the fire was at its worst, or on the 'cold side' of town, where the fire wasn't present, and to was believed that there was no way the fire could spread to them because of the underground geology. "In a community where 47% of the residents have lived in their homes twenty-five years or longer, the threat to community existence was met with dread and anger toward neighbors who had, from the long-timers' perspective, clearly misjudged the seriousness of the problem. Many Centralians who saw the high-risk believers as themselves a peril to the community began to organize to "save their town". Thus emerged what many perceived as two irreconcilable goals: the preservation of health and safety, and the preservation of Centralia, and the achievement of one goal meant the sacrificing of the other." 30

A number of grassroots organizations were formed in the early 1980's, to promote the cause and belief of fragments of the population. The first one to spring up was the "Concerned Citizens Action Group Against the Centralia Mine Fire," chartered on April 9, 1981, and commonly referred to as the Concerned Citizens, or CC for short. The formation of this group was prompted by Todd Domboski's fall into the subsidence the previous month, and was made up of the younger people of the town, those concerned more with safety than with preservation of Centralia. This group lobbied for action by the government, and was not trusted by many of the elders in town. The group's main method of coping with the fire slowly destroying the town was to lash out in anger at those opposed with them on the issue. This method became the model for the groups that followed it, except for the Centralia Committee on Human Development (CCHD), which was formed after the CC disbanded near the end of 1982 to use the grant that the CC had secured. AFter the mold from the CC style was broken, CCHD meetings became more organized, by downplaying and not tolerating emotional outbursts from its members about the problems they faced, as had been done in the past. They did make some progress, attracting a mental health satellite location to be brought to the borough, to enable residents to deal with stress and social disagreement. A mere two months after the formation of CCHD, a group was formed in neighboring Byrnesville was formed, Citizens to Save Byrnesville, who refused government gas monitors and scoffed at the idea that they were endangered when the government reports indicated that the fire was moving toward their village.

When Route 61 was closed in 1983, a group with members from all different opinion groups met to try and accomplish an attack of the problems associated with the fire, called the United Centralia Area Mine Fire Task Force. The only positive event to come from this group was Unity Day, on March 7, 1983. Unity Day was a media event to represent a unified effort by residents of Centralia to obtain a solution to the mine fire. For attracting positive media attention, it worked rather well, but the organization lost its unity the very next day, as the old splits between people came back to haunt it once again. This was caused by trying to decide what to do about the fire, instead of organizing and concentrating on more unity orientated events. "A more basic question followed: What do we want? It was this fundamental question that the Unity Committee failed to collectively answer." 31

More informal groups sprung up, and the last formal one was organized by Helen Womer's group, calling itself The Residents To Save The Borough Of Centralia. This basically opposed the CC's position, in that they wanted to preserve the Borough of Centralia no matter what. This severe social fragmentation resulted in a strong tide of hatred flowing through the community that tore long-standing friendships apart, and turned people against each other. A firebomb was thrown into someone's house in the middle of a night, and people wouldn't even walk down the same side of the street as someone who opposed their views. "The pattern of group failure suggests that once set in motion, the tyranny of the town's social hatred precluded any self-conscious effort to rearrange the tragic pattern of interpersonal relations." "It's my neighbor, and not the fire, that bothers me the most." "The real disaster in Centralia was the two different groups' viewpoints being shared by screaming at each other as the preferred method of communication - the way people responded to the fire." 32

At this point, most of the residents finally began to favor relocation, not necessarily because of the dangers posed by the mine fire, but because the quality of life in the borough had deteriorated so badly, that leaving and relocating to another community was viewed as a problem solving strategy. Therefore, the majority of the residents voted for the relocation option, and took advantage of it when it was finally approved. The Homeowners' Association arrived at this point to aid residents in dealing with the government agencies in charge of the buyout and relocation program, which the residents appreciated. " 'I'm a member of Homeowners' because the government will take me to the cleaners if I let them.' Another man was more blunt: 'Look, the government's out to screw me, I'll join anybody who helps me screw them instead.'" 33 This gave many residents a chance to start anew, without an underground fire, or a community being destroyed by the effects of it.

Centralia is another example in the growing, but still small, list of chronic technical disasters to be studied for the differences between itself and a natural disaster. Other such disasters (of the CTD variety) occurred at Times Beach, Missouri, where the population was exposed to dioxin contamination, asbestos contamination in Globe, Arizona, and the Love Canal neighborhoods of Niagara Falls, New York. It also raises questions. "We have emphasized throughout this book that what befell Centralia was a social as well as an environmental disaster. The altruistic community that emerges in the wake of a natural calamity contrasts sharply with the social hatred that characterized Centralians' response to their long-term, humanly produced disaster. Why does a natural disaster result in the communal bonding of survivors and a CTD tend toward debilitation social conflict?" It appears that in dealing with a natural disaster, people tend to pull together and overcome the hardship, whereas with a CTD, they tend to split into varied fragments, making it impossible to launch any kind of coordinated plan of attack against the disaster, only against each other. "It is one thing to rebuild a house; it is quite different to heal the pain and anger felt when neighbors become enemies." 35

 Continue to Lessons




  Mine Fire History Mine Fire History Historical Photos
  Pictures From Today Mine Fire Chronology Visiting Centralia
  Centralia Then & Now 360? Virtual Tours Scientific Study
  Satellite, Aerial Photos Downtown Panoramic Centralia Books


Other Interesting Things




So you want to Visit Centralia PA?  What you should know before you go to Centralia PA.


The Real Disaster Is Above Ground: A Mine Fire and Social Conflict



What's near Centralia?

Plan your visit around one of Pennsylvania's best kept secrets located only 15 miles up the road from Centralia...

Amusement Park

Click Below for
 more details...

Amusement Park


Silent Hill & Centralia
Centralia PA inspires screenwriter Roger Avary during the making of the movie Silent Hill.
Read More Here...


Remembering ...
Byrnesville PA
By Mike Reilley

  Books about Centralia
  Maps of Centralia
  Around Town Today
  Local Attractions
  Personal Notes
  Additional Reading
  Haunted Centralia?
  Gerry McWilliams and
  the album "Centralia"
  Silent Hill Inspiration
  Other Mine Fires
  Search Centralia
  Centralia Sites/Books
Panoramic Virtual Tours:
Mine Fire Hot Spot
Downtown Centralia Mainstreet Centralia Damaged Hillside
  Centralia Infrared

Centralia PA in B&W Infrared
Infrared Photography
by Donald Davis

Video Tour
in Infrared of
Centralia PA
by Donald Davis


The Little Town That Was
by Donald Hollinger
Made in U.S.A. - 1987 movie that was filmed on location in Centralia PA See the opening Scene that started in Centralia during the peek of the mine fire disaster



Is Centralia Haunted?
Explore the possibility

The Real Disaster Is Above Ground: A Mine Fire and Social Conflict

Is there Hope
for Centralia?


Through the use of Nitrogen-Enhanced foam the Pinnacle mine fire was extinguished by Cummins Industries, Inc.  Cummins proposes to tackle the Centralia Mine fire and bring an end to the 
40 plus year fire.

Read this White Paper which evaluates the effectiveness of remotely applied nitrogen-enhanced foam to aid in efforts to isolate and suppress a mine fire.