After 50 years, fire still burns underneath Pa. town
Centralia was already a coal-mining town in decline when the fire department set the town's landfill ablaze on May 27, 1962, in an ill-fated attempt to tidy up for Memorial Day. The fire wound up igniting the coal outcropping and, over the years, spread to the vast network of mines beneath homes and businesses, threatening residents with poisonous gases and dangerous sinkholes.
After a contentious battle over the future of the town, the side that wanted to evacuate won out. By the end of the 1980s, more than 1,000 people had moved and 500 structures demolished under a $42 million federal relocation program.
But some holdouts refused to go — even after their houses were seized through eminent domain in the early 1990s. They said the fire posed little danger to their part of town, accused government officials and mining companies of a plot to grab the rights to billions of dollars' worth of anthracite coal, and vowed to stay put.