Centralia - 1 Carter It was February of 1981 when Todd...

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Carter It was February of 1981 when Todd Domboski, then twelve years old, was at his grandmother’s house with his cousin and saw smoke coming up from a pile of leaves. Todd thought that someone might have thrown out a match while driving by, so he decided to investigate and make sure there wasn’t a fire. The next thing he knew he was holding on to roots for dear life, dangling with his body completely below the earth. He screamed for his cousin but his senses were over taken by the rushing sounds of the air churning the fires beneath the earth, the pungent smell of sulfur, and the unimaginable heat of the flames. He could just barely make out his cousin’s voice yelling, “Put your hand up!” Todd did not die that day, but no one is really sure why. 1 The Centralia Mine Fire The infamous coalmine fire of Centralia, Pennsylvania that caused Todd Domboski to face his fate theoretically began on May 27, 1962. Every year, in preparation for Memorial Day, Centralia cleaned up the city landfill by burning the trash. They would set the trash on fire to keep it from smelling and to rid it of flying papers and feeding rats, then it would be extinguished by the city fire department. The only difference this year was that the landfill had been moved to a pit, which just happened to be an old strip mine that had been excavated back in 1935. In 1956 Pennsylvania ratified Act 471, which warned of the dangers of fire for landfills near strip mine pits and recommended close regulation, and that a permit had to be required to have a landfill in such an area. This was one of the only ways that the city 1 Renee Jacobs, Slow Burn: A Photodocument of Centralia, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986). 1
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council of Centralia seemed to follow the law. They got their permit, but then they proceeded to illegally burn the trash in the dump and then keep it out of the minutes of the city council meetings, which discussed cleaning up the landfill itself. In any case the fire department fought the fire of the landfill that year just like any other year, by pouring water on the flames until no more could be seen. 2 There were still flames burning deep in the trash, unbeknownst to anyone involved. Unfortunately these flames delve deeper and deeper into the ground. Two days after the fire, May 29, Charles Michael (one of the firefighters paid by city council to extinguish the landfill fire) returned home from his job in Bristol, PA and found the fire still burning along the fence near the cemetery. He ran to town and got several hoses and ran water on the dump for almost five hours. Charles Michael denies that he was ever at the fire on the 27 th . City council said that they had fires every Sunday, and that is why there was a fire on the 29 th , but only one planned fire was recorded in the meeting minutes. 3
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Centralia - 1 Carter It was February of 1981 when Todd...

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