A Fiery Legacy

Today’s day trip takes us to Centralia, PA, or what remains of it. Once a booming coal town, Centralia sits largely abandoned with only five houses still standing as of November 2021. Most residents fled the mining town after the ground below caught on fire.

The Centralia Coal Seam Fire

In 1962, firefighters performed what they believed to be a controlled burn of the town’s landfill. They had no idea the dump sat on an open coal seam. Unbeknownst to them, this coal seam caught on fire, which spread silently through abandoned mineshafts below the town’s surface. For years, residents were oblivious to the inferno unfolding beneath them.

It wasn’t until the late 1970s and early 1980s when residents realized the gravity of the problem. Gasoline inside underground tanks at the town’s gas station began to boil. Later, a 150ft sinkhole filled with toxic gas nearly swallowed a boy playing it his yard. The federal government unsuccessfully spent millions to try to extinguish the fire. In the end, the government offered buyouts to all residents and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania used eminent domain to condemn the remaining properties. A handful of residents refused to leave their homes. They subsequently settled with the Commonwealth, allowing them to live out their lives in Centralia before their homes are bulldozed.

Getting to Centralia

Driving to Centralia feels like traveling back in time through Pennsylvania’s coal country. Our trip takes us from Allentown through Tamaqua and Mahanoy City. We also stop at the Big Mine Run Geyser near Ashland.


Tamaqua once used to be a bustling railroad hub on the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad. The city’s train depot is listed on the register of historic places. Today, the restored station features a restaurant and seasonal scenic train rides.

Mahanoy City

In 1948, Mahanoy City was the first town to offer cable TV. Not much has changed since then. Even the city’s traffic lights are from a bygone era.

Big Mine Run Geyser

The Big Mine Run Geyser in Ashland, PA is a curious roadside attraction. The man-made geyser flows continuously from an old ventilation shaft leading to an abandoned coal mine.

Touring the Ghost Town

Centralia is not a welcoming place. The remaining residents do not like visitors. No trespassing signs are everywhere. Perhaps because the eerie place attracts strange visitors. The main road into town, Highway 61, once attracted graffiti artists and became known as the Graffiti Highway. To deter visitors, the company that bought the condemned property covered the highway with dirt mounds, accidentally creating what seemed like a rather busy and illegal dirt bike rink.

Although the immediate effects of the fire are less noticeable today, the fire beneath Centralia continues to burn and will do so for generations to come.