From the book:
Danger: A Tragedy of People, Government, and the Centralia
by David DeKok
Early 1962 a decision was made to use an old strip mine near
the odd fellows cemetery as a landfill. Under new state
regulations the old landfill needed to be closed. This new
site, if worked properly could serve Centralia for years.
The mining pit had several holes in the walls and floor from
previous mining attempts. According to Department of Mines
and Minerals Industry (DMMI) these holes would need to be
filled with incombustible material. That way if there was a
fire it would not spread to near by mines. The holes were
sealed and the pit was inspected. Apparently everything was
ok because the state permit #WD-443-R was issued.
Many stories have surfaced as to what happened that summer
of 1962, but ultimately one thing is for sure, A fire
happened in the landfill. After many attempts to extinguish
it, it kept resurfacing. After a few days the firemen made
an astonishing discovery. There was a hole almost 15 feet
long and several feet high at the base of the North wall of
the pit near the Odd Fellows Cemetery. It was concealed
beneath the garbage and was not sealed with the
incombustible material.. The hole led into the old mines and
is more than likely the way by which the landfill fire
spread into the coal mines.
The Fire was reported to the proper authorities and steps
were taken to extinguish it. Unfortunately it was not. The
garbage began to smolder, and foul odors were drifting into
the near by St. Ignatius Church which prompted many
The President of the Independent Miners, Breakerman, &
Truckers, an organization of men who ran small mines and
coal- hauling business, was called. They organization was
often called to organize emergency mine fire projects.
After looking at the situation he called an engineer at the
DMMI Office in Pottsville, described what he saw and told
them he could dig out the burning material with a steam
shovel for about $175.
The office of DMMI said such a project would have to go
through proper channels. Even though it was known that quick
action must taken, he said he was sorry but there was
nothing he could do.
In mid-July, A routine inspection of the landfill was made.
Despite the fire, Centralia council had continued to allow
dumping in the pit. Now not only was the garbage again on
fire but there were small amounts of steam curling out of
the cracks in the North wall. A state mine inspector was
called in to inspect the situation and bring his gas
detection equipment. The Amount of Carbon Monoxide found
concluded that the old mines were indeed on fire.
At this point letters were drawn up and sent to Lehigh
Valley Coal Co. To inform them of the fire and another to
Secretary Evans in an appeal for State aid in putting out
the fire. A copy of the letter survives in the State
Archives in Harrisburg.
Award-winning journalist David DeKok tells, for the first
time, how the Centralia mine fire really started in 1962. He
shows how local, state and federal government officials failed
to take effective action, allowing the fire to move underneath
the small town of Centralia, Pennsylvania. By early 1981, the
fire was sending deadly gases into homes, forcing the federal
government to install gas alarms. A 12-year-old boy dropped
into a steaming hole in the ground wrenched open by the fire's
heat on Valentine's Day as the region's congressman toured
nearby. DeKok tells how the people of Centralia banded
together to demand help from the government, finally winning
money to relocate much of the town.
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