In 1962, a coal seam was ignited beneath Centralia. Located in Columbia County, Pennsylvania, the town of Centralia grew around the anthracite mining industry, which had mostly left by the time of the fire. Residents of Centralia did not realize the severity of the fire until the late 1970’s, when surface temperatures, toxic emissions, and sinkholes began afflicting residential and commercial areas. Robert J. Brennan was lead engineer for monitoring and controlling the Centralia mine fire in the early 1980’s. His records illustrate the severity of the disaster, and put forth several scenarios for remediation, from complete excavation to letting the fire burn out on its own. Adjusted for inflation, the most expensive scenario would today carry a price tag of $844 million. None of the options proposed by Brennan (or by an anonymous correspondent writing to Brennan) were pursued, and ultimately the U.S. Congress allocated $42 million to relocate most residents. The fire is still burning today, nearly 60 years later, and expected to continue for decades more.
Reports, presentation materials, and correspondence
Robert J. Brennan papers
CO2 PPM, 1977-1983: 332-340.2
Slow Burn: A Photodocument of Centralia, Pennsylvania, from Penn State Press, chronicles the last days of Centralia in 1983.