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30 January

Book Review: Fire Underground by David DeKok


Book:  Fire Underground

I heard about Centralia a about 2 years ago. At the time I was still producing the podcast regularly and I thought it would be a great episode (which it still might…someday).  The story of Centralia is much written about and tons of video abound on youtube of adventurous urban cinematographers.  The story itself is about a town in Pennsylvania that used to be a big mining town.  They mined coal.  Like all towns, they had a dump.  It was business as usual to set fire to the refuge in the dump every so often, this would reduce the amount in the dump and make room for more trash.  The fire that was set on May 27, 1962 still burns today.  That original fire found its way to the coal seams under the dump that extend for miles in every direction, including under the town of Centralia.

The events that follow the start of the fire are many, many attempts to put it out.  These attempts all failed due to politicians who were unable to did not want to flip the bill for containing the fire.  Every time they failed, the fire just got worse.  Until most of the town had to be evacuated.  Presently, the fire seems to still be burning, there are still a handful of residents that refuse to leave the town.

The story is an interesting one and DeKok’s Fire Underground: The Ongoing Tragedy of the Centralia Mine Fire does a good job of capturing the ineptitude of the government officials and the anguish of the residents suffering through the decades it took to finally come to the conclusion of evacuation.  If you have any interest in learning more about this American tragedy, this is the only book you need to read.  It is the best on the subject.

There are other books on the subject for example, Joan Quiqley’s The Day the Earth Caved In: An American Mining Tragedy.  I picked this book up first, but it left me wanting more, and was not an interesting narrative.  DeKok’s book has so much information.  He has dug through all the town meeting notes, gained access to information released just before his book was published in 2009.  There are a few photos in DeKok’s book, but if you really want to see that side of it I would recommend on the the many photo books that have been done on this town and its miserable history:

To be fair, there are other books on the subject, including DeKok’s first book on this same subject, Unseen Danger: A Tragedy of People, Government, and the Centralia Mine Fire. Death Underground: The Centralia and West Frankfort Mine Disasters by Robert E Hartley and David Kenney looks like the only other contender, but it only has two reviews on Amazon, one 5 star and one 3 star.

Have you read anything good on this subject?  Please share what you can in the comments section.

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