Paper No. 2
Presentation Time: 1:50 PM

CENTRALIA IN CONTEXT: THE BIG PICTURE OF ANTHRACITE MINE FIRES


AURAND Jr, Harold W., Penn State-Schuylkill Campus, 200 University Drive, Schuylkill Haven, PA 17972 and VICE, Daniel H., Penn State Hazleton, 76 University Dr, Hazleton, PA 18202, hxa10@psu.edu

The anthracite mine fire that destroyed the town of Centralia, Pennsylvania, is often thought of as a unique tragedy. In reality, such fires have been common. Prior to the collapse of the anthracite industry in the 1950s coal companies put out or contained fires to protect their ongoing operations. Since then there has been no one to fill that role. Declining mining communities lack the resources to reclaim or police the land. Abandoned surface mining pits can be inviting targets for casual dumping or other activities that can lead to fire.

Centralia's notoriety springs from the fact that while it is not unique, geological and community factors made the fire particularly hard to fight. Comparing the Centralia fire with others, such as those in Laurel Run and Carbondale, Pennsylvania, as well as later fires with arose after the lessons from Centralia had been learned, puts the fire into an industry-wide context. It also challenges the thesis put forward by sociologists J. Stephen Kroll-Smith and Stephen Robert Couch that the way the people of Centralia dealt with their mine fire can serve as a model for how communities respond to mine fires and other man-made technological disasters.