There’s a detour along Route 61 in Pennsylvania. Little would think to question the signs on top of the hill in the Ashland community, following their directions until reconnecting you with Route 61 again.
Very few know about the history surrounding the detour—the road closures, the ruins, the ghost town of Centralia. It’s a true dystopian tale of cataclysmic government failure and the suffering of many.
And it all began in 1962.
Some attribute the ruins of Centralia to trash burned in an abandoned strip mine pit. The coal vein running near the surface—which connected to the mine—became a gateway for the fire. What started out as a tug-of-war with a difficult fire in 1962 has now become America’s largest mining disaster.
Over the course of days and weeks in 1962, what the townspeople thought to be an extinguished fire continued to erupt. Dousing the flames with water didn’t help and nor did the next two decades of excavation, trench digging, backfilling and flushing.
Efforts to contain the fire failed. A study in 1983 suggested that the fire will continue burning over two centuries and “could conceivably spread over an area of approximately 3,700 acres.”
The roads of Centralia still hold temperatures reaching between 440 degrees Celsius underfoot. Sink holes, toxic steam, and smoke rising from the ground remind the visitor that something is amiss.
The 1,100 residents of Centralia were relocated, due to potential hydrogen explosions and collapsing grounds in the 1980s. The township of Centralia has since inspired the horror film Silent Hill and many other dystopian and sci-fi movies.