In 1962, a seemingly harmless fire started at a landfill in the coal-rich town of Centralia, Pennsylvania. Residents believed the fire had been extinguished until 1979 when a local gas station owner discovered that his subterranean fuel tanks were alarmingly hot. State investigators arrived in Centralia in 1981 after a 12-year-old boy nearly fell into a vast sinkhole emitting toxic plumes of carbon monoxide. Scientists determined that the 1962 landfill fire had ignited an underground vein of coal, leading to an extensive subterranean blaze that might continue burning for up to 500 years.
Beginning in 1983, a significant effort was made to relocate Centralia’s residents. Scientists cautioned that the toxic smoke, sinkholes, and extreme ground temperatures posed severe risks, making the area inhospitable to human life. By 2020, only five residents remained. Almost all residential and commercial structures had been condemned and demolished, save for a few houses, a single white church, and a municipal building. A protracted legal battle ensured the remaining residents could stay in Centralia for the rest of their lives.
Visitors intrigued by Centralia’s story can wander its decaying streets. Vestiges of curbs, front porches, and the occasional intact house bear witness to more prosperous times. One of the most haunting sights is the periodic plumes of smoke emerging from the ground in the Odd Fellows Cemetery, situated beside the landfill where the fire began.
The Graffiti Highway, formerly part of Route 61 before its reroute, was once a major attraction in Centralia. However, it was buried under dirt in 2020 after remaining inhabitants grew weary of the offensive graffiti that tourists left on the abandoned road. As Centralia’s population dwindled in the 1990s, this graffiti-laden stretch became one of its most iconic landmarks. Visitors would frequently capture images of gray smoke rising from the road’s cracks.
For those with an adventurous spirit, navigating Centralia’s smoky terrain promises a unique experience, replete with tales to share. However, a word of caution: avoid donning your favorite shoes. You never know what surprises await in this eerie town, which inspired the unsettling backdrop for the 2006 horror thriller, “Silent Hill.”