Last Centralia, PA. residents finally fleeing coal fire

Centralia, Pa. coal mine fire has been burning since 1962

Our blood has stained the coal
We tunneled deep inside the nation’s soul
We matter more than pounds and pence
Your economic theory makes no sense

–  Sting, “We Work the Black Seam”

The recession has claimed the homes of thousands of people across this nation. The old way of living while mortgaged to the hilt is quickly being swallowed into the great void that is America’s rude awakening. This means that some who lived a fast life beyond their means are being cast out of Babylon, payday loans in hand; for those in Centralia, PA., however, change means leaving their ancestral homes before to great Centralia, PA. coal fire consumes what is left of their lives.

Gonna find me a piece of bottom land

John Lokitis Jr., 39, never wanted to leave Centralia, PA. He’d lived there all his life, despite the Central, PA. coal mine fire that was started in 1962 and continues to burn. The state had ordered him and about a dozen other Centralians out, but they have remained in the houses Pennsylvania has claimed. They are squatters in their own homes. Mind you, this is much more sensible that when ACORN encouraged people to illegally squat in foreclosed homes, but it is illegal nonetheless. Centralia, PA. residents want the comforts of home, carbon monoxide gas aside.

Subject to carbon monoxide poisoning since the 1970s

The Centralia, Pa. coal fire was set in 1962. Lack of funding to control the fire left it burning. By the 1970s, residents began to suffer from illnesses related to carbon monoxide poisoning and injuries resulting from sinkholes. Demolition projects began in earnest by 1983, thanks to a $42 million federal program. Eventually, the town was shut by Pennsylvania’s governor because it was unsafe for the workers. Yet Centralia, Pa. lifers remained. More than 1,000 were relocated, but a handful couldn’t let go.

What’s it like, nursing a dying town?

If you’ve ever played the video game Fallout 3, I imagine it would be something like that. The real question is what is it like to know that there’s a fire burning beneath your town, a fire that could cause the ground to cave in and swallow your home with you in it? Wouldn’t you be happy to leave? At what point must sentimentality give way to self-preservation?

John Lokitis told the Times that “It was part of my life for all 39 years, that house. It was difficult to leave it and difficult to see it demolished.”

It will not be reborn

All who remained in the Centralia, Pa. danger zone were holding out hope for a rebirth. I wonder how many payday loans it would take for a remodel on that scale?

It doesn’t matter now. The State of Pennsylvania is finally moving the squatters out. The once thriving coal town will be left to burn itself to sleep.

(Photo Credit: / CC BY 2.0)

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