Plunge into Hell
February 14, 1981 - It was on this day that 12-year-old Todd Dobowski of Centralia, Pennsylvania fell into a hot, gaseous void caused by an underground coal fire.
The incident occurred as Todd was investigating some smoke rising from his grandmother's backyard. The earth opened beneath his feet and he dropped into a sweltering hole. Todd was up to his knees. He screamed and tried to crawl out, but the hole widened until he was waist deep. Again he struggled, but this time he plunged out of sight.
A wretched cloud of steam shot out of the hole which was now 4 feet wide and 150 feet deep.
Todd's sixteen-year-old cousin, Eric Wolfgang rushed to his aid. There was a weird sucking sound as the air whooshed into the hole, feeding the fires deep below. Eric could see his cousin about 3 feet down. The little boy was holding onto a tree root to keep from falling deeper. Eric yelled, "Grab my hand!" Amazingly, he was able to pull his muddy cousin to safety.
Coincidentally, a Congressman, State Senator and other dignitaries happened to be taking a tour of the area at that exact moment. They saw firsthand the risk that the coal fire was posing to the community.
The underground inferno has been burning since 1962. One theory is that it began in an old strip mine that was being used as a dump. A trash hauler may have unloaded hot ash and coal into the pit, setting off a fire that worked its way into the abandoned mines. It has been smoldering through the coal veins beneath Centralia ever since.
In 1984, the federal government started relocating families and businesses. The once-proud Centralia is now a ghost town.