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Fire in the Hole

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Author Topic: Fire in the Hole  (Read 154 times)
Lisa Wolfe
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« on: June 19, 2009, 12:03:43 am »

Centralia continues to hold municipal elections—8 of the town’s 12 residents are officeholders. A $4,000 state budget covers maintenance costs, including the clearing of snow. Lokitis mows what used to be neighbors’ yards “to keep things looking neat.” Near an empty intersection of four-way stop signs that once marked the center of town, a gleaming volunteer fire truck stands ready to roll. “Of course, we don’t have any fires to put out,” says Mayor Mervine. When the U.S. Postal Service finally revoked Centralia’s ZIP code three years ago, Lokitis mounted a fruitless campaign to restore it, then stenciled the extinct code, 17927, on green park benches. And when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, someone tied yellow ribbons on four nearby telephone poles. At Christmas, a few former residents faithfully return to set up a manger scene. Lokitis claims many will turn up in 2016 to open a time capsule buried in 1966 next to the veterans’ memorial.

In addition to the tourists, scientists come to Centralia as well, to study volcano-like minerals forming around cracks in the soil and to probe for unusual heat-loving bacteria. TV and newspaper reporters show up, seeking offbeat features. Recently, a delegation of Russian scholars studying industrial disasters came calling. “Sometimes you feel like an exhibit,” says Lokitis.

Mayor Mervine was pictured in Esquire not long ago, over a caption reading: “I ain’t leaving.” Wild turkeys, hummingbirds, deer and rabbits have replaced crammed-in row houses. Recently, a black bear ambled down South Troutwine. Since no one owns property, no one pays property taxes, and the parking situation could hardly be improved. City councilman John Comarnisky is talking half-seriously about buying a few bison, putting them out to pasture, and promoting Centralia as the Yellowstone of the East. To hear some people talk, the place is coming back.
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