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Centralia smoke rising in this undated photo.

Northumberland County, Pa. -- Illegally dumped tires may have been responsible for a fire inside an abandoned mine opening south of Trevorton in Zerbe Township, Northumberland County.

Officials said the underground fire, which began to burn above ground on April 24, was thought to have spread to a coal seam.  

On Tuesday, the Pa. Department of Environmental Protection offered an update on the situation.

"Eight boreholes have been drilled ​thus far and several more are planned," said Megan Lehman, DEP Community Relations coordinator, in an email. "Six-inch steel casing pipe is being installed in the boreholes to various depths, ​depending on what is encountered underground, and they will be used for future temperature monitoring or inspection with a borehole camera."  

As of the morning of June 7, all temperature readings taken in the boreholes have continued to reflect normal ​underground temperatures, Lehman reported.

The drilling subcontractor temporarily paused operations last Friday to assist with an emergency drinking water situation in New York state. The pause in drilling offers officials the opportunity to conduct other activities while the drill is idle and there is no potential issue for activities to conflict on the site, according to Lehman. 

In an attempt to gain more visual information about the underground situation, a borehole camera will be lowered on Tuesday. The contractor will also perform site cleanup and ​begin installing permanent locking caps on the boreholes. 

DEP’s Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation (BAMR) will continue other onsite activities while the drilling subcontractor is away.

This recent incident is reminiscent of the Centralia mine fire that started decades ago and is still burning today.

The origin of that fire has been debated, but one hypothesis is that it also started when a trash pit fire ignited a coal seam, according to the PA Environmental Digest. The whole town had to be relocated. 

According to the Department of Environmental Protection’s website, Pennsylvania has 12 scrap tire piles that contain 10,000 tires or more. There is no doubt that many more smaller piles exist across the state.  

Scrap tires burn easily and are hard to extinguish.

“Illegally dumped trash and tires pose an abundance of health and safety hazards. Disposing of unwanted items properly in the first place is not only more cost effective, but it reduces situations like the one we are seeing at the abandoned mine near Trevorton," said Shannon Reiter, president of Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful.


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