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Fire Underground: The Ongoing Tragedy of the Centralia Mine Fire

3.91  ·  Rating Details ·  151 Ratings  ·  29 Reviews
For much of its history, Centralia, Pennsylvania, had a population of around 2,000. By 1981, this had dwindled to just over 1,000—not unusual for a onetime mining town. But as of 2007, Centralia had the unwelcome distinction of being the state’s tiniest municipality, with a population of nine. The reason: an underground fire that began in 1962 has decimated the town with s ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published October 1st 2009 by Globe Pequot (first published 2009)
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May 11, 2012 Randy rated it really liked it
I grew up a few miles from this town. Went to school with kids from there. Saw a lot of the things depicted and people in it on the evening news. I watched the town die piecemeal over the course of a few decades. I'm pretty familiar with what happened. And yet this book still gave me a rage-induced migraine.

DeKok depicts the sort of buck-passing, short-sightedness, and general dumbfuckery that passes for government in this country in stupefying detail. When conservatives decry 'big government' a
Jan 05, 2014 Carrie rated it liked it
Shelves: kindle
I should start this review by saying that this is among the most well-researched books I have ever read. This book is clearly the result of years of hard labor on the author's part. Unfortunately, that doesn't translate into a gripping read.

I am a huge fan of historical non-fiction, and while the topic of this book is interesting, it is not a book for someone who prefers his or her non-fiction to read like a thriller. I think this book is a required read for residents of Centralia and the surro
David Witte
Aug 23, 2010 David Witte rated it really liked it
Amazing story, very interesting read. I past my stop on the subway because I got caught up in the book. Went all the way to the end of the line before looking up.
Aug 01, 2010 Mary rated it really liked it
Having first heard of the Centralia Mine Fire while listening to Bill Bryson's 'A Walk in the Woods', I wanted to read more. This book is a new edition of the author's 1986 book 'Unseen Danger' and brings the story up to 2009. The style is very journalistic; I think it fits the material very well (after all, the author is a reporter). Even without a lot of embroidery, the book is over 250 pages long.

For anyone who has ever doubted the ineptness (and lack of common sense) among government bureauc
Anne S
Jul 12, 2016 Anne S rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016-read
I read this book after I read David DeKok's book about the murder at Penn State. This being said, I knew a little about Centralia from other articles and books I have read. My father retired from the AF in Wilkes-Barre, PA which is about an hour and a half north east of Centralia. Anyway, there are coal mines all over the state and of the ones there, some are still burning but not as long or with as much destruction as that of Centralia.

I liked the fact that David got into giving background info
Jan 11, 2011 Michelle rated it liked it
Shelves: history, environment
DeKok, a journalist, has written for years about Centralia, PA and the mine fire that eventually led to a whole scale exodus from the small town. In this book, he covers in (sometimes excruciating detail) the beginnings of the fire in 1962, its spread over the years (it is still burning), and the immense number of politicians and local personalities who weighed in and tried to do something about it. I was stunned to learn that, in the days before Google, the PA Health Department actively hid inf ...more
Sydney Miller
I don't want to say that I disliked this book, because that isn't true. I learned a lot from reading this. And even though ice lived with the knowledge of Centralia all of my life this book brough to light many things I was not aware of.
However, it took me to long to get through because I didn't want to pick it up. Everything was technical, name-dropping, and I didn't realize I'd learned a thing or two until I finished a chapter, put the book down, and did a little review of what just happened.
Rebecca McNutt
Hell on Earth, the burning bed, ghost town - these are just a few of the many nicknames given to the Pennsylvania coal mining town of Centralia, where the population has dropped to just nine people in 1981 and where every house and building, every tree, every person, is in danger of being sucked into the underground fire that has been raging for over thirty years, using an entire closed-pit mine for kindling. This book is about as good as there is on the disaster, documenting everything from the ...more
Aug 30, 2014 Kris rated it liked it
Very informative. only reason I didn't rate higher was because I got soooo confused about all the who's who and really could've used some kind of reference to help keep track. also a timeline of who was mayor of what and the congressmen and such...
I did not realize how political the issues Centralia had/has are! Or how oblivious/stubborn some of the people involved (both residents and officials) were and continue to be in some cases to the level of impact this whole situation has now and fo
Marta Weber
Jan 04, 2011 Marta Weber rated it really liked it
You can tell that DeKok did his research on the Centralia mine fire and was immersed in the events taking place over the years (he was a journalist who covered the fire for the local newspaper). There are ALOT of names referred to in the book due to the political hand-off the town experience time and time again but DeKok adds personality to the individuals so you remember them when they get brought up later in the story. I wanted to read the book primarily to gain a better understanding of the t ...more
Mar 23, 2015 Steve rated it really liked it
This book is extremely well researched. The sheer volume of information makes the read a bit tedious but it is necessary to cover the story completely. The striking thing for me was the complete incompetence and deception on the part of both State and Federal governments in dealing with the issue. It is truly sad to see the folks deceived and manipulated by these bureaucrats. However I must say that the people of Centralia also contributed to the mayhem by not having a solid representation. Ther ...more
Sep 06, 2012 Leslie rated it it was amazing
Fire Underground is a great resource for anyone interested in learning more about the mine fire catastrophe in Centralia, PA. The book probably has more information than you ever wanted to know so I found myself skipping a few pages. David DeKok recounts stories from citizens who lived in Centralia during the time, provides photographs of the fire's destruction, and explains in detail the politics/logistics/funding of the relocation project. The latter part was what I could do without, but perha ...more
Nov 29, 2010 Jason rated it liked it
I heard about this a while ago. I wanted to learn more. I had picked up another book on the subject, but never finished, because it didn't ever seem to really get started itself. This book has an amazing amount of detail. I would even say it has far too much detail for the casual observer. I think there was too much in the middle of this book. You can read the first few chapters but when it gets repetitive skip to chapter 25. The story moves much faster after that point. Mad props the the author ...more
Pam Van Winkle
Feb 27, 2015 Pam Van Winkle rated it it was ok
I only read half of this book. It's like a documentary about how government manages to slowly slog through decisions and then make all the wrong choices. When a mine fire is the problem common sense should tell even a bunch of bureaucrats that time is of the essence. Various government entities take months to make decisions, eventually causing the demise of the town. This book is similar to reading meeting minutes. I was hoping for more emphasis on the human interest aspects. (Maybe the second h ...more
Aug 17, 2014 Faith rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I've been completely fascinated by the Centralia mine fire since I first heard about it in 2007, so I loved this book. There was so much information on the history of the fire, the town, and the people involved -- everything I could've hoped to learn was in there. It was a real page-turner, too. (Even though I know how the story ended, I still found myself becoming hopeful every time some potential solution was presented, then was infuriated when it wasn't carried through.) I only wish there had ...more
Apr 01, 2011 Deleted rated it liked it
Dry, but urgent, account of the Centralia fire. This book, more bitterly than Joan Quigley's "The Day the Earth Caved In", illustrates how the unforgiveable failure of government -- poisoned by politics -- utterly abandoned the good people of Centralia who believed until the end that they would be helped. It is a breathtaking and heartbreaking account of how politicians, on both sides of the aisle, concern themselves mainly with passing the buck and blaming others rather than with serving their ...more
Dec 26, 2016 Karen rated it liked it
Well researched and written, but twenty years of bureaucracy can get tedious to read about, even when it deals with something as fascinating as an underground fire. There were so many names, agencies, and acronyms that I didn't really try to keep track of them. I'm not sure if there would be a way to make the story easier to follow, as Centralia really is a story of bureaucracy and the detail does matter in understanding why the fire is still burning.
Jun 09, 2014 Dawn rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, disasters
I found this book fascinating, if a bit dry, as others have said. I had read quite a bit online about the Centralia coal mine fire and its effect on the town's residents, and this book pulled it all together in a cohesive history.

I'd give it 4.5 stars if I could, because I wouldn't want to take off a whole star on the lack of maps and the quality of the photos. There is only one map, and you will definitley want more than that. Lots of pics and maps are available online, however.
Aug 08, 2012 Dana rated it liked it
Shelves: history-nerd
Fascinating book... probably the most in-depth look at Centralia that exists. The amount of research DeKok did is impressive, and he manages to make all the council meetings and bureaucracy actually interesting to read about. It was a bit of a slog to get through the book only because there was so much to read, but it kept me intrigued all the way through.
Nov 24, 2010 ette rated it liked it
This was a fascinating book about an environmental disaster that so negatively impacted the lives of so many. I just wish it were written a bit more chronologically and less in packets based on topics--I sometimes lost track of some of the main players. I also wish there had been a bit more on the long-term environmental impact of the fie--but good read.
Diane Bluegreen
Mar 26, 2013 Diane Bluegreen rated it liked it
there is an incredible amount of scholarship and reporting in this book. lots and lots of details. i was interested in the subject,so i enjoyed it and i am one who likes details. this book isn't for everybody,but it's a good account of a very intriguing subject...mine fires,some of which,including the one in centralia,are still burning.
Glenn Koehler
Dec 07, 2010 Glenn Koehler rated it liked it
Good read, infuriating to think of all the bureaucratic bull these people had to go through and endure. A little confusing due to tons of names and facts but provides an important history on an interesting spot to visit in Pennsylvania Americana.
Feb 20, 2012 Alan rated it it was amazing
The fascinating and devastating story of a Pennsylvania mining town being wiped off the face of the earth.
Apr 29, 2014 Danielle rated it really liked it
Very well-written and engaging book about this epic tragedy and all of the missed opportunities to avoid it.
May 07, 2014 Traci rated it really liked it
review to come
Mar 14, 2010 angrykitty rated it liked it
Shelves: history, bio-autobio, 2010
after seeing all the yahoo stories about this town, i had to get this book....even after reading the first 10 chapters or so, i can see how the people of centralia don't trust the government....
Chris rated it it was amazing
Nov 06, 2016
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Jun 23, 2013
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