Centralia, Pennsylvania: A Ghost Town on Fire

The town of Centralia, Pennsylvania was once a prosperous community – so, how did it become a ghost town on fire? Learn the town’s fascinating history.

Once upon a time, Centralia, Pennsylvania, was a thriving town built around the mining industry. Now, the abandoned town is famous for one thing, the ongoing burning fire underground that will probably burn for another 250 years. So, how exactly does a growing, prosperous town turn into a ghost town on fire, and the inspiration for the video game, Silent Hill?
Centralia Before the Fire

The land that would eventually become Centralia was known for its coal and small mining operations. But it wasn’t until 1831, when Johnathan Faust opened The Bulls Head Tavern, that a community began to form. As larger coal companies purchased land and the export of coal became easier due to the railroad system and Redding Road, people began to move to the area. Eventually, Alexander Rae, an engineer, was brought in to design the town, which was officially incorporated in 1866.

Most everyone who worked in the mines happened to be of Irish-Catholic descent, and some of these men formed a famous, radical group known as the Molly Maguires. The Maguires were famous for standing up for better wages and working conditions but their methods were extreme and unsanctioned. (In fact, some of the members were responsible for the murder of town founder Alexander Rae during a botched carriage robbery.) Regardless, Centralia flourished for several decades. Unfortunately, with limited natural resources, and mines shutting down due to the stock market crash of 1929, the town’s population began a slow decline.

The Fire

A dump site was created for the town’s trash, and once a year on Memorial Day weekend, the trash was burned to reduce the waste. Memorial Day weekend, 1962, was no different. The fire department oversaw the controlled burn and just like every other year, they put the fire out. Except, later, after they left, the flames rose again on their own. Again, the fire department put out the fire, and, again, the flames rose back up. The problem had never occurred before, but there was one major difference that year: the location of the dump site had been moved due to state regulations. The new site was in a pit mine and after investigation, a hole was discovered in the pit giving the fire access to natural coal resources.

The residents tried to save their town right from the start, but the fire only grew due to state interference and a lack of funding. Life continued on in Centralia, unaware of just how volatile the situation was – the town even celebrated its centennial in 1966. Attempts to save the town continued but often failed or were too little too late. Then throughout the 1970s and 1980s, everything got worse. Buildings were deemed unsafe, sink holes formed, and poisonous gases rose up through the ground. It was clear, Centralia no longer had a future and the town that once boasted thousands of residents was reduced to five by 2022.

Watch the video below to learn even more about the fascinating history behind Centralia, as well as neighboring towns that have suffered or will suffer the same fate due to the ongoing underground fire.