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by Bunbry 

Posted: 23 October 2008
Word Count: 266
Summary: For the All That Time challenge. This is fact rather than fiction, but it fitted the theme so well I just had to use it. I hope you find it interesting.

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Centralia was a thriving mining town, population around 2000, in Pennsylvania. Its prosperity came from the fact that it sat upon 24 million tons of a special long-burning type of coal called anthracite. The anthracite was its downfall too.

In 1962 a fire at a tip on the edge of town ignited a seam of the anthracite. It might be difficult to ignite, but it is even harder to extinguish and despite many attempts by the fire department, involving enormous amounts of water, it simply wouldn’t go out.

Various solutions were proposed, some quite ingenious, but the best estimates had the cost at $20 million, with no guarantees of success. So they let it burn.

17 years later a local petrol station registered the temperature below its tanks at 172 degrees Fahrenheit. Further testing found that at just 13 feet below the tanks that figure rose to 1,000 degrees.

By this time acrid smoke was coming from the ground at various points around town and cellar floors were hot to the touch. Despite this, it was not until 1981 when great pits began to open spontaneously in the ground, one nearly swallowing a young boy, that the town was evacuated at a cost of $42 million.

As people left, their houses were bulldozed, leaving garden paths incongruously leading to nothing. The roads remained though, along with the road signs. Not so much a ghost town, as one that vanished.

Today the ground is still warm, smoke still billows and it is estimated that there is enough coal down there to burn for another 1000 years.

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Comments by other Members

Elbowsnitch at 19:59 on 23 October 2008  Report this post
Amazing piece, Nick - really interesting facts and a story well told!


tusker at 10:31 on 24 October 2008  Report this post
That was fantastic, Nick. Short, to the point and very interesting. There must be a journalist inside you, waiting to get out.


Bunbry at 19:01 on 24 October 2008  Report this post
Thanks Jennifer and Frances. I've only written one other factual piece, but loved doing it. I felt the same doing this one too. Makes a nice change from fiction once in a while.


V`yonne at 20:18 on 24 October 2008  Report this post
But that's appalling when we are fasy running out of fossil fuels and being told to cut back for global warming. What a waste!

Jordan789 at 23:03 on 24 October 2008  Report this post
this would make a cool as heck documentary! or a dramatization of the events might also make a great setting for a story.

Bunbry at 09:11 on 25 October 2008  Report this post
Cheers Jordan, it's a real compliment to get such praise from you!


Bunbry at 17:36 on 25 October 2008  Report this post
Oonah, sorry missed you out earlier! I'm not sure if anthracite is used much today. I believe Wales is sat on a load of it, but is it being mined now?


V`yonne at 18:09 on 25 October 2008  Report this post
I don't think any of the anthracite seams are still in production. Nothing burns like anthracite! I think the mines in Wales have so many geological faults that it is well nigh in mpossible to get at the suff now. You could check on Google.

Forbes at 22:45 on 25 October 2008  Report this post

nice style, and clear telling of the story. Sad when you think- 20 mill v 42 mill - bet they wished they'd taken the first bet! And the emissions!



crowspark at 00:16 on 26 October 2008  Report this post
Nice piece of creative non-fiction.
When I lived in Lancashire during a particularly hot summer the local railway embankments, which were built with pit-rakings, kept catching fire. They would burn underground and out of sight but every now and then they would burst into flame and the fire brigade would go and hose them down. They got so hot that when the water hit them they would explode in muck and steam.
There are markets for creative non-fiction but I have no experience of them.
Thanks for the read.

Bunbry at 10:17 on 26 October 2008  Report this post
If you could fit those embankments into your work Bill, it would really make a story fizz. It's the kind of thing you just couldn't make up.
SSL took a non-fiction piece of mine, but that was when they were new and possibly short of contributors. Might try them again though.


LMJT at 12:53 on 26 October 2008  Report this post
This is really interesting and, like you say, in keeping with the theme for the challenge. Good use of facts.


Bunbry at 13:21 on 26 October 2008  Report this post
Avis, I think they call it 'A false economy!'


Bunbry at 13:23 on 26 October 2008  Report this post
Thanks Liam, I'm glad you liked it. Felt I'd gone off the remit a little though!


choille at 15:56 on 26 October 2008  Report this post
Hi Nick - This is fascinating.
I think it's really well written.

How weird to think of all that heat beneath the fuel tanks & the towns folks having to evacuate.

Great read.
All the best

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