Essay: The Mine Fire of Centralia

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  • Subject area(s): History essays
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  • Published on: March 2, 2020
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  • The Mine Fire of Centralia
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In the year 1866 a mining town by the name of Centralia was founded in the state of Pennsylvania. At the high of Centralia’s prosperity in the 1890’s its population was around 2800 people. When the mid 1950’s hit the towns economy took a hit because of declined demand for coal energy. The main substance that was mined in Centralia for decades was Anthracite Coal (About, 2017). According to Siv Padhy “Anthracite, the rarest and most mature coal, accounts for only about 1 percent of the world’s total coal reserves” (Padhy, 2017). Anthracite can mainly be found in the Appalachian region of the United States and has the highest carbon content of all the different types of coal. In fact Pennsylvania has the highest anthracite concentrations in the US. Anthracite has been used in both steam powered and internal combustion engines to produce power. It is also used as a reduction agent in the process of metallurgy (Padhy, 2017).

The Centralia mine fire started by mistake when on May 27th, 1962 the fire department decided to set fire to the towns landfill to clean up for their memorial day celebrations. The garbage was burned and the firefighters put out the landfill with water but neglected to check that all the embers had been extinguished. This proved problematic because the town’s landfill was right above the old strip-mining pits. Because the garbage fire was not extinguished properly the fire spread down into the abandoned mines under the town. Since the mines were abandoned the fire was not discovered until it had moved directly under the city and several residence noticed smoke rising up from the ground. Efforts to control the fire were ineffective and ultimately failed. The mine fire continues to burn under the town of Centralia to this day (About, 2017).

In the 1980’s, after two decades of the Centralia mine fire burning, the effects on its resident population became apparent. Carbon Monoxide gas was being released by the fire and was seeping up into the homes and businesses around town. Carbon Monoxide poisoning became a prevalent public health issue in Centralia and caused many cases of brain damage and even death. Low oxygen levels and toxic smoke also contributed to the hazardous health and safety conditions in the town (About, 2017). Because public health had declined so drastically “In 1984, a voluntary program was begun to move residents from their homes. Many accepted buyout offers for their properties and moved elsewhere. After leaving, their homes were leveled. In 1992, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania used eminent domain to take control of all the property within the town. The remaining buildings were condemned and the residents asked to leave. Many did, but a few remained and sued for their right to stay” (website). This had a devastating effect on local economy. After most of the residence had to be evacuated there was almost no local economy left to speak of.

The government’s involvement in Centralia was not a boon to the people of the town. In 1967, a few years after the fire had started, the US Bureau if Mines had suggested the use of trenches to contain the mine fire. This method of containment had proven effective before and, had it been implemented, could have contained the fire starving it of more fuel. This proposal would have cost the federal government $4.5 million dollars. This cost would ultimately lead to the scrapping of this proposal and instead less affective, but much cheaper, flush barriers were used in Centralia. The US Bureau of Mines defended this decision because they believed that saving $500,000 of real estate properties, in a town past its prime, did not justify the $4.5 million dollars of taxpayer money needed to fund this project. This would prove faulty reasoning though because the combined cost of the flush barriers and the relocation of the entire population of Centralia ended up costing the taxpayers $42 million dollars. This is ten times the cost of the original proposal to install trenches to stop the fire in the first place (Worth Saving, 2017).

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