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Fire in the Hole

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Author Topic: Fire in the Hole  (Read 153 times)
Lisa Wolfe
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« on: June 19, 2009, 12:02:46 am »

Philbin will likely never get the chance. Funds are limited, and to a certain degree, coal field residents who are in no immediate danger accept fires as part of the backdrop, like subway noise in New York City or drizzle in Seattle. On the slope behind Philbin’s Wilkes-Barre office, another fire, the forgotten cousin of Centralia, has been smoldering in Laurel Run since 1915. Every attempt to put it out has failed. When gases erupted under one neighborhood in the 1960s, nearly 200 buildings had to be demolished, including 178 houses. Today that section of Laurel Run is a wasteland, frequented by illegal garbage dumpers and teens on all-terrain vehicles. But many people still live in adjacent neighborhoods. The access road to a nearby mobile-home park occasionally slumps, necessitating repairs. “I know if you’re from somewhere else, it seems strange, but to me it’s nothing unusual,” says resident Gene Driscoll, 49, a construction worker who lives at the park. “I’ve seen fires all my life. No one really worries about it.”

But it’s a different story in Centralia, where just about every year the little band of holdouts is reduced by death or departure. Lokitis, a civilian accountant for the state police, has been the only resident on WestPark since his neighbors, Bernie and Helen Darrah, died in 1996. The Darrahs’ house still stands, but the rest of the street is lined with lots vacant except for grass, a patch of backyard forsythia and the town’s small monument to its war veterans. Still, Lokitis points out that the fire has never actually killed anyone. In fact, he says, people here live to ripe old ages—Pop, for example, died at 84 in 2002. Lokitis says he just ignores the occasional whiff of sulfur that comes his way. The fire has not reached his house, because, he insists, it’s protected by groundwater and rock—and Pop assured him it never would. Pop knew the underground around here like the back of his hand, Lokitis adds.
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