Mine troubles: Centralia

From Cecil’s new column this week, Will pumping out all that oil cause the earth to cave in?:

This timeline is about 20 years off. The Centralia fire started in 1962, when trash in the municipal dump was set on fire and the fire was not properly extinguished. The dump was in an abandoned strip mine section, and the coal seam caught fire. The danger to the town started becoming apparent around 1980, when underground fuel tanks were found to be unexpectedly hot and sink holes began to open up, one of which nearly swallowed up a 12-year-old boy. Evacuation of the town began by the mid-1980s.

From Cecil’s new column this week, Will pumping out all that oil cause the earth to cave in?:

Something like this also happened on June 4, 1978 to Lake Emma, above Silverton, CO. The Sunnyside Mine (gold) had come a bit too close to the bottom of the lake, and the entire lake drained out through the mine into Cement Creek, the next drainage to the west. This caused extensive damage, but no loss of life - luckily it happened at night when no one was in the mine.

As usual, sloppy editing on my part. I’ll fix.

I bet this is where the Simpsons writers got the idea for the ever-burning Springfield tire fire.

“pumpage” ??

Dude, you need to go back to Ridgemont High!

So there’s a fire, in Pennsylvania, expected to burn for the next 250 some odd years right?

Is there any way we can use this?
Perhaps use it to generate electricity?
A natural incinerator dump for trash?
Have Tokyo send us a Godzilla and truck in 20 million gallons of Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce?

Apparently there’s a truly massive fire about 93 million miles away - which we could also use!

First of all, that isn’t a fire. Fire is an oxidative process that puts out a tiny bit of energy compared to nuclear fusion.

The problem is that that massive amount of energy has to travel those 93 million miles and is pretty diffuse when it gets here - whereas those oxidative reactions we use in our homes and businesses use a concentrated form of this diffuse energy and release it at once. It takes a long time for the sun to grow a tree, and a short time for that tree to burn in a woodstove and heat a house.

The issue with using solar energy directly has always hinged on gathering enough of it for it to be useful and storing enough of it to use when it is dark. That isn’t simple.

I’m not driving that far for a cook-out no matter what sauce you use.

The sun is a mass of incandescent gas.
A gigantic nuclear furnace.

Yes, the sun is pretty hot and expels quite a bit of energy. However that energy is partially diffused across 96 million miles and seriously diffused through the 160 some odd miles of atmosphere to reach the ground. If we were to, for example, want to use that heat to warm up some water in copper tubes we would need to focus it on the tubes with a lens; either that or raise the tubes hundreds of miles into the atmosphere to capture the radiation before our air scatters it all to hell’s blue acres.

It seems a lot simpler, since there is already a fire burning, to sink some copper pipes into the ground near Centralia, run some water through them to collect the radiation (heat) and use that to… I don’t know… do something with.

Simple until subsidence ruptures the pipes and causes a massive steam accident. I wouldn’t build anything over Centralia.

Yeah, like Mr. Moto says, the Centralia fire isn’t easy to harness. There’s a reason people were moved away from the area without being given much choice in the matter. (I believe something around 15-20 people have absolutely refused to move, but they live in a town that legally does not exist, with no municipal services.) The ground is subsiding, toxic gases are rising from sinkholes, and in general the whole place is a mess. Yes, it’s the same coal as in a power plant, but the fire is uncontrolled and unpredictable.

The town of Centralia is also where Konami got the idea for the video game series Silent Hill. The series is set in an abandoned crumbling foggy town filled with huge steamholes in the ground and roads, sometimes blocking your path.

I was living a few miles away from the Retsof Salt Mine when it collapsed. The story I heard was that the company couldn’t dig out all the salt it found because the mine would collapse. So they had to leave pillars made out of unmined salt to support the mine ceiling as they dug out the surrounding salt. The size of the pillars had been apparently been established by mining lore and guesswork. Then some engineering consultants were hired. They said that the pillars were unnecessarily large; they could be reduced in diameter by half, which would reduce the amount of salt being left behind in the pillars. So the size of the support pillars was reduced and more salt was being mined - right up to the point when the mine collapsed.

You’d lose that bet…what makes you think the writers were not lampooning actual tire fires?

Sometimes a tire fire, is just a tire fire.


I was looking for something like this, Thanks!

Now the questions is…why did it burn for 2 years and 4 months before Sukut came in and put it out in 15 days?


I don’t know much about tire fires, but living in Southern California, I know a lot about wildfires.

I don’t know if this information will parley over to a tire fire, but with wildfires, an important strategy is to let the fire consume most of the available fuel.

For instance, when a fire is burning in an uninhabited canyon, rather than trying to put the fire out, they will let it burn the grass, trees, and bush. This allows them to focus their efforts and resources on parts of the fire that threaten buildings or people. More importantly, though, once that fuel is consumed, there’s nothing left there for another fire to start or spread with.

We had a fire last week which burned an uninhabited area out. They didn’t waste an ounce of water or effort stopping it from burning the area. Now it’s 10 days later, still hot, still dry, still windy. But we can now be confident that a fire is not going to start or spread in that same area again.

I went down and took some video of it on Monday this week:

That’s the area now. It’s covered with ash, and the remaining flora which is still alive is way too far apart to allow a fire to spread.

Anyhow, this may not be the reason why they let the tires burn so long. It may be that tens of thousands of burning tires are difficult to put out.

15 years ago, I saw a fire truck in City of Industry shoot water into a fire, only to have an explosion arise from where the water was hitting an explosive substance inside (I think it was phosphorus). They had to stop with the water and use special chemicals to put it out.