Centralia was a coal-mining town in 1962 when disaster struck. A coal vein under the town caught fire and began to burn. There was no way to extinguish the underground blaze, which is destined to burn for decades, until all of the coal in the vein — plus all of the coal in the interconnected veins — is depleted. Initially, residents weren't concerned, as the fire was far underground. But after a decade or so, the inferno began negatively affecting their lives [source: Roadside America].
People became ill from breathing in carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, by-products of the fire that began seeping into their homes. A gas station owner had to shutter his business when the burning vein threatened to blow his underground gas tanks. Residents began fleeing the town, and in the mid-1980s, Congress approved $42 million to help Centralians relocate. Soon the vast majority had left. In 1992, the governor declared eminent domain over the remaining homes, and evicted the residents. Some resisted and filed suit against the government; in 2013 the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania agreed to let seven people stay until their deaths [sources: Centralia Pa, Roadside America].
Tourists have been visiting the nearly abandoned city for decades, though they are officially discouraged. In the early years, the main danger was the toxic seeping gases. Today the biggest problem is sinkholes, which can form in areas where the timbers supporting the mine have burned away; plus, the ground is softened from the fire's steam and gases. The government has bulldozed most of the compromised structures. However, you can still see a handful of old, abandoned homes; the old cemeteries, which look especially creepy when wisps of smoke from the fire drift through them; the vents that were inserted into the earth to help the gases escape and the striking Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, which still holds services [sources: Centralia Pa, Cheney].