CENTRALIA — The Centralia mine fire started over half a century ago in the summer of 1962 at the southern tip of Columbia County.
It’s still burning today — and experts say it could burn for decades to come.
The underground fire has forced almost an entire town — with a population of more than 1,000 in 1980 — to flee.
The town’s population stood at just 10 residents as of 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
But there is one piece of good news: Centralia has become a haven for tourists in search of alternative destinations and has inspired the book “Fire Underground: The Ongoing Tragedy of the Centralia Mine Fire” by journalist David DeKok.
DeKok’s book, in turn, led Philadelphia-based filmmaker Joe Sapienza II to make a documentary about the village called “Centralia: Pennsylvania’s Lost Town.”
“I thought it’d be interesting to do a film on it,” Sapienza said.
Centralia will be showing it at the Wyoming Seminary’s Kirby Center for Creative Arts as part of the Northeast Pennsylvania Film Festival. It will be screened Sunday at 6 p.m.
Sapienza said the film took about four years to complete, and due to financial struggles during the first few months, he wasn’t sure the movie would ever get made.
“I’m just happy we did it,” said Sapienza.
He focused the documentary on both the former residents of the town, as well as the officials involved in relocating residents during the 1980s and 1990s.
“We gave a voice to everyone,” he said.
The filmmakers wanted to give a personal experience and narrative around the history of the town. That’s why Sapienza opted against using a narrator, instead letting the voices of those who lived through the experience tell the story.
“It puts a personal touch on things,” he said.
Sapienza said they were able to gather old news footage from years of coverage and embed it into the documentary, as well as over 200 photos from DeKok’s personal archives to show the town throughout the past five decades.
Sapienza said one of his favorite parts of the project was being able to go through the archived news footage and see video from when events were happening in Centralia.
“Watching that in raw format is pretty neat,” Sapienza said.
After the screening in Kingston, there will be a few more showings in Northeastern Pennsylvania through Thanksgiving. Sapienza said the documentary will be available on DVD and digital format after the new year.