Stefany Anne Golberg at The Smart Set:
It was a sunny Valentine’s Day in 1981 when 12-year-old Todd Domboski fell into the fire. He had been in his grandmother’s backyard and noticed a plume of smoke. Such sights had become commonplace in Centralia ever since an abandoned coal mine caught fire beneath the town in 1962. A whole labyrinth of forgotten mines snaked below Centralia, which had slowly filled with fire. Clouds of wretched vapors surfaced all over Centralia, smoke from burning trash and from coal. The trees started to die; the air got harder to breathe. At first they tried to put the fires down, but the flames raged on. Nineteen years went by, and people just kind of got used to it. There were about a thousand residents of Centralia, Pennsylvania in 1981—most had lived there all their lives. Centralians learned to step over the fire and cross to the other side of the street and patch up the fissures that sprang up in their yards as best they could.
The ground opened up beneath Todd Domboski and swallowed him up to his chest. Later, Todd told reporters that the sinkhole smelled of rotten eggs. It was 150 feet deep. Todd’s screams were heard by his cousin Erik, who managed to pull him out of the hole. But it got a lot harder after that to pretend everything was okay. Centralia was no longer a small town with an innocuous fire. The town was becoming its own funeral pyre.