Early 1962 a decision was made to use an old strip mine near the odd fellows cemetery as a landfill. Under new state regulations the old landfill needed to be closed. This new site, if worked properly could serve Centralia for years.
Taken from the book: Unseen Danger: A Tragedy of People, Government and the
Centralia Mine Fire By David DeKok
The mining pit had several holes in the walls and floor from previous mining attempts. According to Department of Mines and Minerals Industry
(DMMI) these holes would need to be filled with incombustible material. That way if there was a fire it would not spread to near by mines. The holes were sealed and the pit was inspected. Apparently everything was ok because the state permit #WD-443-R was issued.
Many stories have surfaced as to what happened that summer of 1962, but ultimately one thing is for sure, A fire happened in the landfill. After many attempts to extinguish it, it kept resurfacing. After a few days the firemen made an astonishing discovery. There was a hole almost 15 feet long and several feet high at the base of the North wall of the pit near the Odd Fellows Cemetery. It was concealed beneath the garbage and was not sealed with the incombustible material.. The hole led into the old mines and is more than likely the way by which the landfill fire spread into the coal mines.
The Fire was reported to the proper authorities and steps were taken to extinguish it. Unfortunately it was not. The garbage began to smolder, and foul odors were drifting into the near by St. Ignatius Church which prompted many complaints.
The President of the Independent Miners, Breakerman, & Truckers, an organization of men who ran small mines and coal- hauling business, was called. They organization was often called to organize emergency mine fire projects.
After looking at the situation he called an engineer at the DMMI Office in Pottsville, described what he saw and told them he could dig out the burning material with a steam shovel for about $175.
The office of DMMI said such a project would have to go through proper channels. Even though it was known that quick action must taken, he said he was sorry but there was nothing he could do.
In mid-July, A routine inspection of the landfill was made. Despite the fire, Centralia council had continued to allow dumping in the pit. Now not only was the garbage again on fire but there were small amounts of steam curling out of the cracks in the North wall. A state mine inspector was called in to inspect the situation and bring his gas detection equipment. The Amount of Carbon Monoxide found concluded that the old mines were indeed on fire.
At this point letters were drawn up and sent to Lehigh Valley Coal Co. To inform them of the fire and another to Secretary Evans in an appeal for State aid in putting out the fire. A copy of the letter survives in the State Archives in Harrisburg.