KU’s Professor Fruehauf Comments on Centralia

Posted on October 19, 2011 by


"Centralia Vault" used with permission from "Lyndi&Jason" at Flickr.com (c) 2007

In the small town of Centralia, Pennsylvania, one would most likely not realize that there has been an ongoing mine fire since 1962.

The catastrophe was caused by burning trash that was thought to be put out but wasn’t fully extinguished.  The fire then spread to the mine beds and became greater until it was impossible to put out. Millions of dollars have been spent on trying to put the fire out, but none of the attempts have worked. The toxic gasses and smoke has condemned the town that now only 10 people inhabit.

Dr. Kurt Fruehauf, a science professor at Kutztown University, said, “The gasses emitted by the fire at Centralia will have absolutely no effect on people in Berks County. Also the amount of gas emitted is so small compared to the amount of atmosphere between here and Centralia, so the gasses are very quickly dissipated. The gasses are really only dangerous to the people in Centralia because the gases rise up through fractures in their basement foundations. With the gas being carbon dioxide and so much heavier than air, it accumulates more. With people going down into their basements, they have a chance of suffering suffocation.”

Dr. Fruehauf continues, “The fire is still burning today because there is still coal in the ground to burn. If you were to flood the fire with water it will still not stop the fire because part of the water will boil into steam and the other parts will seep into fractures of surrounding rock away from the fire. The fire will go out someday when the affected coal seams are more or less completely burned up. The fire will also not affect all of the coal in Pennsylvania because the coal occurs in many separate, isolated beds that are not connected.”

This fire has essentially wiped out the town of Centralia. Many hope this long, deadly fire will stop before it harms people in other towns, but there is no way of telling when this fire will go out–or if it will ever go out.

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