Centralia, Pennsylvania (40°48'12" North, 76°20'30" West), a town in the heart of Anthracite Country, famous for its devastating coal mine fire that eventually forced its resident to abandon the town. The fire started when, in anticipation of Memorial Day, firefighters attempted to reduce trash odors located near a cemetery by lighting the town garbage dump on fire and later extinguishing it with fire hoses. However, on May 27, 1962, the fire found its way through a hole into the labyrinth of the abandoned coalmines. It has burned ever since.
Firefighters battled the fire for the next two decades by flushing the mines with water, excavating the burning material, backfilling, and drilling again and again in an attempt to extinguish the fire or at least contain it. They succeeded in keeping the majority of the fire in areas of the mine outside the city until 1979 when it broke through an underground barrier, built years earlier, and moved under the town. The combustion released dangerous gases into residences, and caused widespread subsidence that damaged homes, buildings and roadways. By early 1981, the fire was sending harmful 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.
In 1983, after multiple drillings, the collapse of parts of the town, and approximately $40 million had been spent in an effort to extinguish the fire, the federal government decided that any further attempts at putting out the fire would be too large of an expense and would destroy the majority of the town, allowing the fire to burn. Congress allocated $42 million to aid any residents that sought to relocate. Studies done that year found that the fire could burn for another century and spread over 3,700 acres, and would cost $663 million to extinguish.
In 1993, the Commonwealth’s Centralia Task Force, with authorization from the United States Office of Surface Mining, invoked condemnation procedures to acquire the remaining properties and relocate any remaining residents. This action was taken due to sudden and severe subsidence and the continued release of toxic gases, particularly carbon monoxide. In 2002 the US Postal Service revoked the town's zip code, 17927. The population today stands at about 20, down from more than 1,100 in the 1980s.
DeKok, David. 2000. Unseen Danger: A Tragedy of People, Government, and the Centralia Mine Fire.' (iUniverse).
Kevin Krajick, Fire in the hole in Smithsonian Magazine, May 2005