Tuesday, July 28, 2009

From Burning Coal to Wind Power: A Weekend in PA Part I

Centralia, PA -- A City Consumed by Invisible Flames

This past weekend Matt and I spent three days in and around east central Pennsylvania. The original purpose of our trip was to attend a concert** however when we discovered the proximity of the show’s location (Hershey) to an area we have been interested in exploring for a couple years now (Centralia) it was clear we were supposed to make a weekend out of it. In this first part I will be sharing some information on Centralia and photos. Be sure to return tomorrow for Part II detailing the Locust Ridge Wind Farm.

Centralia, Pennsylvania is a town located above a vast number of coal mines and approximately forty years ago while the town was burning trash in a strip mine, the coal beneath the city caught fire. It was impossible to put out this fire and the residents have been all but forced to move as the Government has taken over this town for safety purposes; the levels of carbon monoxide at ground level are unsafe for extended periods.

Realizing the potential safety issues, the town has torn down all but a few homes where the staunchest of locals still remain. The Earth has created its own heaves and vents to release the steam from the burning fire. We were able to walk around much of the city without seeing another soul.

I commented to Matt that the desolate quiet reminded me of the movie I Am Legend; it was all very eerie especially considering the fire is slated to burn at least another 100 years. Over the course of that period there will literally be nothing of the original town which has not been overtaken by the vegetation of the Earth surrounding it.

Here are a couple photos to show the complete abandon of the town. Please note that the brush grows all the way to the street, in many cases nature has taken over sidewalks and concrete stairs that used to lead to well loved homes.

This crack began disrupting traffic in approximately 1983. This road (the former Rt. 61 & 54) was completely closed within the next five years. The sink in many spots surrounding this area are about 3-5 feet deep and nature has overtaken both the central divider and shoulder along this completely closed road.


This sight is apparent all over town. Sadly most homes that were here just five years ago have been razed to the ground as the residents have abandoned them. A quick Google search for Centralia, PA will bring up websites showing boarded up homes but they are long since torn down.

Here is a vent the Earth created on its own to release steam from the underground fire. The temperature here is over 120 degrees and will burn your hand if left in its path for too long. Rumor has it shoes and tires will melt if left in this area for too long.


Another abandoned two lane road. Nature has reclaimed her own home.


The encouraging news in all of this is that Pennsylvania is slowly beginning to amend its ways in the coal mining industry by opening their eyes to potential cleaner and more environmentally responsible options. On the way to our hotel we spied a fairly decent sized wind farm (large by northeast standards mind you). While in Centralia we happened to see it was up on a proximate ridge overlooking the town. Because I am constantly thinking about good stories for all of my readers my instant reaction was “get me there”!

Matt and I were able to navigate right to the base of one of the turbines and there was a big sign containing all the information I could ever need to research Locust Ridge Wind Farm. The parent company of this project is spreading the benefits of wind power all over the United States! Please stop back tomorrow for a complete accounting of the project (including some cool ‘to scale’ shots of us next to turbines).

**To read more about the concert we attended please feel free to visit my personal blog Random Lunacy.

2 comments:

ecokaren said...

This town reminds me of that movie "Happening" with Walhberg. Spooky!

But I'm so glad PA is turning things around. Can't wait to read your next post.

Judi FitzPatrick said...

It is very sad to think that humans were so unthinking to ever start the fire in the strip mine. I guess live and learn. Another 100 years of earthly devastation to come, think how that energy could be used!
Gets off soap box!