America might be a relatively young country, but it’s already accumulated plenty of strange history across its vast expanse. Some of the most bizarre stories on the entire planet, in fact, originate from right here in the USA.

One particularly strange and tragic tale took place in the quiet mining town of Centralia, Pennsylvania. It was here where a simple mine fire began in 1962—and turned the town into one of the strangest places in the world.

When you learn the story, you’ll never, ever forget it.

This is Centralia, Pennsylvania… or what’s left of it today. It doesn’t look like much. Really, it might just seem exactly like any other part of the country—and especially like any other place in the rural Northeast.

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Settled in 1841 and incorporated in 1866, Centralia was a small town of a little over a thousand people that based most of its economy on its mining industry. This was fairly common for the region and the era.

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Then, tragically, in 1962, a fire above ground sparked a conflagration in the network of abandoned coal mines beneath the town, and the Centralia Mine Fire was born. It grew into a massive blaze, but it would take decades—and a lot of strange happenings—before the townspeople realized the extent of the damage.

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There’s some debate as to what sparked the fire; it could have been a trash fire that was located too close to one of the mine entrances, for instance. Still, one thing was certain: it quickly got out of control. And once it started, there was no stopping it.

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The fire actually continued to burn underground for many long years, fueled by veins of coal deep in the earth. On the surface, though, life remained relatively unaffected… at least for the time being.

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It wasn’t until 1979 when the townspeople began noticing alarming increases in the ground temperature—and the sudden appearance of large sinkholes—that they suspected something was going on. Sadly, it was only after a terrifying event that the residents realized the scope of the fiery devastation raging on beneath their feet…

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In 1981, a 12-year-old boy named Todd Domboski fell through a 150-foot-deep sinkhole that had opened in his backyard. The boy was pulled from the hole, but when officials measured the hot steam geyser shooting out of it, they were shocked to discover that it contained a near-lethal dose of carbon monoxide.

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There was some debate about how serious a threat the fire posed, but in 1984, it was determined that the entire town needed to be relocated. The government dedicated a whopping $42 million toward the project.

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Most of the families were successfully relocated to nearby towns, but a few actually chose to remain behind. They must have been brave souls; who else could have been able to linger anywhere near all of that madness?

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In 1992, then-governor Bob Casey invoked eminent domain on all of the properties in the area, essentially rendering them officially condemned. Not every resident took this order lying down, however.

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Governor Tom Corbett inherited the infamous blaze in 2011.

Now, however, even after a long legal battle with the state, a few residents still refuse to abandon their homes in the smoldering town. In that sense, it’s not a total ghost town—but it certainly feels like it to anyone willing to visit.

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Almost all of the structures have been abandoned and demolished, leaving the earth to reclaim what was once hers. Some old roads can still be seen in the hills and bluffs, but they’re largely buried under weeds now.

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What few homes remain have to be regularly reinforced with brick pillars as the ground beneath them continues to be unpredictable. One would imagine that this doesn’t exactly make for the most peaceful existence.

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As for the rest of the town, nature continues its reclamation project. These sorts of images almost look like something out of Chernobyl or a dystopian novel. The sight is incredibly eerie, no?

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Roads often come to broken ends, which is an apt metaphor for the entire town of Centralia, Pennsylvania. Even that pair of tires is pretty strange to see just lying there. How creepy is this place?

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The fleeting signs of civilization are steadily being broken down by the relentless grip of nature and swallowed whole. This is a rare look at what happens after humans just up and leave a place and nature takes over once more.

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In this way, it’s like looking into a weird world without people. Pretty wild, right? All of the graffiti on this cracking road almost seems like you’d find it in a Mad Max movie, doesn’t it? Over time, even the graffiti will fade in the sun, and humans’ mark on Centralia, Pennsylvania, will be but a distant memory.

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Centralia, Pennsylvania, has become something of a legend, and it has even been used as the inspiration for books, films, and video games. Residents actually plan to return next year to open a time capsule that was buried in 1966. Hopefully, it won’t be burned to a crisp!

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