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How an area TV station investigated an underground mine fireplace within the coronary heart of Pennsylvania’s coal area

How an area TV station investigated an underground mine fireplace within the coronary heart of Pennsylvania’s coal area

2023-05-12 10:26:36

One cool, wet day in Might 2022, Rob Manch and Kaylee Lindenmuth determined to seek for the coal mine fireplace themselves. They selected a Sunday, when each had been off from their jobs at WFMZ-TV 69 Information, a TV station primarily based in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

The reported fireplace was positioned about three miles to the east of the near-ghost city of Centralia. Lindenmuth – then a photojournalist for WFMZ – introduced her handheld DSLR digital camera. She and Manch, a reporter on the station, plugged the GPS coordinates they’d for the hearth location into Google Maps. The coordinates, in keeping with Manch, confirmed them it was “in the midst of nowhere.”

In sneakers, Lindenmuth and Manch navigated as greatest they may round big mud puddles and terrain that was seldom handed over. The hike via overgrown vegetation and free rocks – although tough – was nothing new to Lindenmuth. Born and raised within the Schuylkill County borough of Shenandoah, Lindenmuth grew up mountain climbing together with her household within the area’s coal lands. 

The 2 colleagues adopted an influence line proper of means and ended up on an outdated coal haul highway. After about 40 minutes of strolling via deserted mine lands, they arrived at their vacation spot. 

“It appeared just like the mountain was on fireplace,”  Lindenmuth stated. “The entire mountain was smoking.”


In February, 69 Information printed Manch’s “Burning Coal Country,” a four-part collection on the underground fireplace he and Lindenmuth tracked down in Schuylkill County. The multi-layered collection aimed to reply questions across the fireplace that’s been burning for not less than 19 years, what the Pennsylvania Division of Environmental Safety is doing about it, and considerations of it probably spreading to houses within the space.

Manch was tipped off concerning the underground fireplace from Lindenmuth, who had obtained details about it from a right-to-know request she filed with the Pennsylvania Division of Environmental Safety. The report Lindenmuth acquired confirmed the hearth’s existence: In state paperwork it’s known as the “Girardville North II” fireplace. 

“I simply form of wished to see if there was something to it,” Lindenmuth stated. 

Deserted mine reclamation – the act of addressing hazards and environmental degradation posed by legacy coal mines as a way to return mined lands to a helpful use – is a matter Lindenmuth deeply cares about. She stated her sister and brother misplaced their father to an deserted mine web site almost a decade in the past, and an in depth pal’s cousin died at an deserted mine web site in 1993. “It’s additionally my job,” Lindenmuth stated. “No matter if I lived right here or not, it’s nonetheless my job as a journalist to look out for the considerations of the neighborhood and that kind of factor.”

A WFMZ-TV investigation into an underground coal mine fireplace in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, stemmed from a right-to-know request filed by Kaylee Lindenmuth, a former photojournalist with the station. Lindenmuth is now writer, editor and multimedia journalist on the Shenandoah Sentinel. (Photograph courtesy of Kaylee Lindenmuth)

When Lindenmuth and Manch first tracked down the “Girardville North II” fireplace, she was reminded of one other well-known fireplace: the historic Centralia mine fire, which has been burning since not less than Might 27, 1962 and has led to a lot of the city being deserted.

“This (fireplace) was what Centralia used to appear like, how a lot smoke there was once,” Lindenmuth stated.

Lindenmuth has since left WFMZ-TV to return to her personal native information web site, the Shenandoah Sentinel. After she and Manch did some subject work, the footage sat idle for some time, till Jenny McCain, one other photojournalist and video editor at WMFZ-TV, accomplished the undertaking with Manch.

McCain stated there was a lot footage that it made sense to interrupt it into 4 separate tales. She stated it was a real crew effort to place the collection collectively, together with drone footage shot by her boss, Ethan Walthier.

“Burning Coal Nation” blends reporting, archival photographs, and interviews with a historian and a geologist. “​​I discovered much more about coal than anybody ever must study coal,” Manch quipped with amusing. 

The Pennsylvania Division of Environmental Safety responded to Manch’s inquiries concerning the fireplace, saying it’s monitoring it and that it had “no proof right now that the Centralia Mine Hearth and the one north of Girardville in Schuylkill County are linked.” Manch and Lindenmuth discovered that it was first found in 2004 by a mining firm known as Blaschak Coal. However the Pennsylvania DEP couldn’t reply how far-reaching the underground fireplace at present is. 

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Over the course of his reporting, Manch additionally visited the closest neighborhood to the Girardville fireplace, a neighborhood known as Raven Run.

“We talked to a couple individuals who reside up there. It’s an actual quiet little neighborhood, and no one knew something about this hearth,” the reporter stated. One of many residents interviewd for the series, Victor Mearini, stated he discovered concerning the fireplace from Manch and expressed concern that his neighborhood may undergo the identical destiny because the residents close to the Centralia mine fireplace.

Although Manch didn’t put quite a bit concerning the Centralia mine fireplace within the collection, he instructed Poynter that he considered Todd Domboski, who was 12 when he made nationwide headlines in 1981 after falling right into a cavernous sinkhole opened by that fireside. In keeping with Manch, that incident spurred motion and evacuations from the realm.

Smoke billows from an deserted coal mine in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. WFMZ-TV 69 Information, primarily based in Allentown, not too long ago aired a four-part collection concerning the fireplace. (WFMZ-TV)

“Are we going to attend till Raven Run turns into the following Centralia – till a child falls in a gap?” Manch stated. For the reason that Pennsylvania DEP hadn’t investigated how far underground this new fireplace is, he added, nobody will know till one thing like that occurs once more. 

There are over a dozen energetic mine fires all through the state of Pennsylvania. Manch says he acknowledges that the one he highlighted in his investigation is on deserted mine land and never at present a direct risk to any houses.

“​​However I wished to focus on it as a result of that is one thing that impacts our viewers. It immediately impacts them,” he stated. “Cities like Shenandoah and Centralia are inclined to get forgotten within the state, and within the nationwide discourse, too. And somebody’s gotta be their voice, proper? Somebody’s bought to speak about issues that have an effect on them.”

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