On May 27, 1962, a seemingly innocuous action performed multiple times by a local fire department would cause one of the largest coal fires in history and controversies in Pennsylvania. Just before Memorial Day weekend, the city of Centralia requested the local fire department to set fire to a trash heap located by a cemetery as it was customary for citizens to come out to the cemetery to honor the town’s military dead. The smell from the trash had become overbearing and so the trash needed to be destroyed before ceremonies were preformed that weekend. What happened next could never have been imagined. The fire found a hole in the ground leading directly to the coal that sustained the town and ignited a drama that continues to this day.
On Wednesday, May 5th at 12:05 p.m., a free presentation entitled Fire Underground: The Ongoing Tragedy of the Centralia Mine Fire by David Dekok is being offered by the Pennsylvania State bookstore. Mr. Dekok’s discussion will focus on the history of the Centralia mine fire, why the government was unable to extinguish the fire, how the fire effected the people of Centralia, the 1983 decision to relocate the populace, and the current state effort to relocate the last ten people still living in Centralia.
Mr. Dekok has been covering the Centralia Coal Mine Fire since 1976. A 1975 graduate of Hope College in Michigan, Mr. Dekok gained his first reporting position at the Shamokin News-Item shortly thereafter. His interest in Centralia was peaked at a Centralia Borough Council meeting when a resident addressed the Board stating the fire from the mine was almost under his house and would soon be underneath the town itself. This concept sparked Mr. Dekok’s interest and he gained permission to write an article on this new development. Over the next nine years, Mr. Dekok wrote numerous articles on the subject, many of which being picked up by the Associated Press. In 1986, Mr. Dekok published Unseen Danger, the most comprehensive account of what happened in Centralia and why.
While Mr. Dekok’s presentation is free to the public, you must R.S.V.P. ahead of time by going to the State Store website.