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  • Steps without a house. Abandoned streets. A lone church with a sky blue dome.

    That's anthracite's legacy in Centralia.

    In 1961, someone lit a fire in a dump near the entrance to an abandoned mine. It caught on the coal -- not that there was that much coal left to burn. In the '30s, young men bootlegged the coal pillars left to hold up the mine shafts. They'd work from the back of the mine to the front, keeping just a few steps ahead of the collapsing shafts.

    But the fire kept burning in the leftover coal, moving and slithering. It reached the cemetery at the top of the hill, where some graves stayed green year round because the ground was so hot.

    In the late '70s, the residents complained of problems with carbon monoxide. They got detectors. The man who owned a store near the cemetery took me into the basement of the business, lifted a lid that covered a hole.

    His CO detector went wild, and the cellar filled with a faint haze of smoke.

    The government attempted to wall off the fire with fly ash, a by-product of softer bituminous coal. But bituminous veins lie flat. Anthracite veins slope steeply. After pouring 77 tons of fly ash into one of the shafts -- with no results -- the government gave up.

    In the '80s, the federal government bought out the town ... but that's another story.

    The fire still burns. On a cool day, steam rises from the ground, and sometimes after dark you can still see a faint glow coming from the ground.
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