Thu 23 Jul 2015
When homosapiens invented fire did we doom ourselves? Because it seems fire will always come into contact with fire and global warming is the result. I think this implies that there is a limit on large animals ability to survive on Earth. I think it means that the Earth is locked into cycles of mass die offs. Finally, I think it means humans better get out of here soon. Yet, I wonder why that is just dawning on me at 60?
Fire in the Hole
Raging in mines from Pennsylvania to China, coal fires threaten towns, poison air and water, and add to global warming
From the back kitchen window of his little house on a ridge in east-central Pennsylvania, John Lokitis looks out on a most unusual prospect. Just uphill, at the edge of St.IgnatiusCemetery, the earth is ablaze. Vegetation has been obliterated along a quarter-mile strip; sulfurous steam billows out of hundreds of fissures and holes in the mud. There are pits extending perhaps 20 feet down: in their depths, discarded plastic bottles and tires have melted. Dead trees, their trunks bleached white, lie in tangled heaps, stumps venting smoke through hollow centers. Sometimes fumes seep across the cemetery fence to the grave of Lokitis’ grandfather, George Lokitis.
This hellish landscape constitutes about all that remains of the once-thriving town of Centralia, Pennsylvania. Forty-three years ago, a vast honeycomb of coal mines at the edge of the town caught fire. An underground inferno has been spreading ever since, burning at depths of up to 300 feet, baking surface layers, venting poisonous gases and opening holes large enough to swallow people or cars. The conflagration may burn for another 250 years, along an eight-mile stretch encompassing 3,700 acres, before it runs out of the coal that fuels it.
Remarkably enough, nobody’s doing a thing about it. The federal and state governments gave up trying to extinguish the fire in the 1980s. “Pennsylvania didn’t have enough money in the bank to do the job,” says Steve Jones, a geologist with the state’s Office of Surface Mining. “If you aren’t going to put it out, what can you do? Move the people.”Nearly all 1,100 residents left after they were offered federally funded compensation for their properties. Their abandoned houses were leveled. Today Centralia exists only as an eerie grid of streets, its driveways disappearing into vacant lots. Remains of a picket fence here, a chair spindle there—plus Lokitis and 11 others who refused to leave, the occupants of a dozen scattered structures. Lokitis, 35, lives alone in the house he inherited from “Pop”—his grandfather, a coal miner, as was Pop’s father before him. For fans of the macabre, lured by a sign warning of DANGER from asphyxiation or being swallowed into the ground, Centralia has become a tourist destination. For Lokitis, it is home.
Go there and read. More next week.