The story of Centralia is not a happy one. This is also one of the most-visited abandoned towns on the east coast and even with its sad history, everyone wants the chance to see a that's been burning for 60 years, for themselves. However, the fire in Centralia is not one that's visible, at least not on the surface. This fire burns underneath the ground, deep in the caverns that once made up this town's booming coal mining business. That was, until the day that it all caught fire and forced the residents who once lived here out of their homes.


While some have maintained permanent residences on the outskirts of the town, much of it is still blazing underneath. All that's left to the town is a restaurant, the cemetery, the church, and, of course, graffiti highway, which has since been painted over to discourage tourists from hanging around. On some days, a trip into Centralia might mean seeing smoke rising from the cracks in the highway's asphalt, while other days, it might mean an eerie gray fog that claims the town after a rainy morning. This imagery, combined with its tragic backstory, served as the basis for the horror game Silent Hill, much of which was modeled after many of the town's features, including its gothic-style church.

The Day The Fire Started

Centralia became home to coal mining in 1856 and the town saw a steady stream of business because of it. The town itself was not a large one but rather, a small town where most people knew their neighbors and festivals were a small-town event rather than one that drew people from miles around. However, the town saw more of a local presence by 1890, and the town prospered until the stock market crash of 1929, which, in turn, hurt the coal mining industry. With roughly 1,200 residents, all but five of them (as of 2017) would soon relocate to avoid the dangers of a slowly-burning town.

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The weekend of the Memorial Day Parade in May of 1962, Centralia's town officials decided to burn the trash in the town's landfill. The unfortunate incident started when there was no place for the trash to go and when the fires in the landfill took a turn for the worst, they became nearly uncontrollable, making their way underground and into the coal mines. From that point on, there was simply no stopping the fire from ravaging the town, as opening it up would lead to even more danger than just allowing nature to run its course. There are several theories as to how the fires truly started in the coal mines but according to history, this is the bottom line.

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Even knowing this, many people didn't realize the true risks of an underground coal fire until the 1980s. A boy by the name of Todd Domboski fell into a sinkhole in his backyard that was created by the coal fires and while he was pulled out safely thanks to the help of his cousin, a disturbing discovery was made. Not only did the ground lack structural stability due to the fire weakening the soil and rock underneath, but the steam coming out from the holes in the town contained fatal amounts of carbon monoxide. With this information, the government took a role in Centralia's history and paid $42 million dollars to relocate its residence to a safer place and to demolish high-risk buildings, of which there were 500 in total, according to Roadtrippers.

Centralia As It Stands Today

The highway into Centralia has since been closed after it buckled due to the fires burning underneath it. Smoke was seen as recent as 2017 although now those familiar with the area claim that the fire has moved onto other parts of the town, places where there's even more coal to feed the flames. The locals who still call Centralia their home don't appreciate the fact that tourists still visit and many have made that a known fact. Without a town police department, keeping rowdy kids out has become somewhat of a challenge, and many like to four-wheel on the abandoned graffiti highway. What many don't realize is that this town is still home to those residents who didn't take the government's offer back in the 1980s, and are still trying to preserve what's left of a town that was once bustling and happy.

There has been talk of turning the town into a tourist attraction but for many, Centralia remains a reminder of one of the country's worst coal mine fires to date... and its fires still burn under parts of this forgotten town.

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