Fire within the earth
As a mine still burns, reasons are sought
Nearly everybody fiddled while the coal town of Centralia burned.
Joan Quigley's excellent study, The Day the Earth Caved In
, takes up several fascinating topics — among them the history of 19th Century mining and the politics of coal — but her central question is: "Why did so many residents want to stay in Centralia, even as toxic fumes and cave-ins beset part of the community they loved?"
The author tells her tale extremely well and is mostly neutral in the disputes. If she has a villain, it is Ronald Reagan's ideology-obsessed Interior secretary, James Watt, whose determination to make Centralia solely Pennsylvania's problem held up distribution of available funds.
Ultimately, it was a legal and political mess Watt got into that led to a $42 million relocation package (and Watt's resignation) in 1983. Razing of buildings and dispersal of residents followed soon thereafter.