A Walk In the Woods


Author Bill Bryson hikes the Appalachian Trail with his ridiculously out of shape buddy, Stephen Katz.  In between the story of their hike are interesting facts about the trail and its people.  A hysterical read, Bryson actually made me laugh at 7:30 in the morning, and that is quite a feat.  

One of the most interesting parts of the story was when Bryson traveled through the uninhabited mining town of Centralia, Pennsylvania.  In 1962, a dump fire spread underground and ignited the vast network of coal mines underneath the town.  The thing about mine fires is that they cannot be extinguished, they just have to burn out.  Many people didn’t realize there was fire burning underneath their feet until the 1970’s.  As the fire spread through the underground mines, the ground on the surface started caving in.  Smoke poured through people’s basements, through cracks on the sidewalks and highways.  Soon the town became unlivable – the fire caused carbon monoxide poising, decreased oxygen levels in the air, created sink holes that swallowed homes and stores, and destroying the interstate and roads.  

In 1984, Congress offered financial incentives for residents to move out of Centralia and into neighboring towns.  In 1992, the state of Pennsylvania declared eminent domain over Centralia and condemned every building in the town.  In 2002, the Postal Service revoked its zip code.  As of 2007, the town had a population of 9.  The fire is still burning and no knows when it will stop.

How crazy is that?  A ghost town in Pennsylvania?  A fire that has been burning for over 40 years?  I kind of want to drive out there and check it out for myself.  Actually, when I drive out to Michigan, I will have to drive through the entire state of Pennsylvania, perhaps I could take a detour. . .

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