Expert's Quotes from RED ASH: Burning Rights


Stephen R. Couch, Ph.D

Department Chair of Sociology and Professor of Sociology at Penn State University
"When the fire first stared, from all indications that we have, not too many people were worried about it at all. The fire started as a small underground fire below an abandoned strip mine, which was used as a garbage dump.”

“In the end, the majority of Centralians did take the government offer and relocated away from the borough. From a sociological stand point the situation is interesting and very sad, because it appears that no one individual died from the mine fire but a community died.”

Harold Aurand Jr., Ph.D

Historian, Author and Professor at Penn State University

“Once I was in Centralia doing research with a visiting professor from Georgia State. He wore the wrong type of shoes and his shoes melted to the ground. He had to walk out in socks. So it can get very hot there.”

Bill Klink

Executive Director of the Columbia County Housing and Redevelopment Authority of Centralia, PA
“My criticism of the state would be that they never got ahead of the fire, which was what was absolutely necessary to put it out.”

Ken Wolensky, D.Ed

Professional Historian, author and biographer
who teaches at Lebanon Valley College, PA and President of Pennsylvania Historical Association
“One of the reasons that the fire can’t be put out is that is continues to be fed by oxygen. When you dig bore holes into the earth, one of the things that you do is feed oxygen into the earth. It is seldom talked about but that was a big problem because the more bore holes that were dug, the more oxygen got into the ground and the more the fire spread.”

Tom Dempsey

Retired Post Master in Centralia and Historian who volunteers at Schuylkill County Historical Society
“There's been mine fires in practically every major anthracite region community over the years. And this kind of stuff never happened before. You know, the situation raised up the furor among the people, and got them to form these organizations, and brought all the outsiders in, you know. And that's – To me, was the end of the ballgame right there.“


Don Bailey, Esq.

Civil Rights Attorney, former Pennsylvania Representative and Auditor of Pennsylvania
“They knew the value of that coal, and they engaged in activities---some elected officials and some appointed officials---to create an environment where the owner of that coal, Centralia, would cease to exist.”

David DeKok

Author of Fire Underground: The Ongoing Tragedy of the Centralia Mine Fire
“I fought for this country a long time ago. And I've seen it go to hell, and you can thank all the politicians for it.”

Charles Rey

Retired Principal, Educator and Superintendent of Schools at the Southern Columbia Area School District
“Centralia was one of the only boroughs in the coal region where they actually own their mineral rights underneath the town. And so, that prevented them from digging it out.”

Andy Ostrowski, Esq.

Civil Rights Attorney
“These eminent domains were filed in 1992. 1992, saying that this is an eminent threat of health, safety. These people were going to get swallowed up by massive holes in the ground.”

Robert Gadinski

Retired Hydrogeologist with the Department of Environmental Protection Agency
“One attempt to stop the spread of the fire was to put in a non-combustible barrier made of fly ash. As a matter of fact, a couple of years ago, the Scientific American magazine wrote an article which went into detail regarding the radioactivity found in coal ash, entitled, Coal Ash More Radioactive Than Nuclear Waste.”

Alan H. Lockwood, MD, FAAN, FANA

Senior Scientist and Past President of Physicians for Social Responsibility and Emeritus Professor of Neurology, University of Buffalo
“Coal is a major contributing factor to the top four causes of death in the U.S.: cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease and stroke, but I think people are completely unaware that pollution from coal is responsible for huge numbers of deaths.”

“Human health is harmed by the burning of coal, which supplies nearly half of the energy in the U.S. and a far greater percentage in industrializing countries such as China, India, Brazil and the continents of Europe and Australia.”

Lisa Evans, J.D.

Senior Administrative Counsel, Earthjustice
“Breathing coal ash dust can be deadly, and yet no federal standards exist to protect affected communities.”

Jennifer Mary Elick, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Earth & Environmental Science at Susquehanna University
”The ground started to break open. We started to see fractures, steam coming up. The vegetation started to die off. Large trees started to just fall over dead. And the whole field became this desolate, empty space.”

“A trench had been dug in the late 1960s. The purpose of that trench was basically to remove the coal and replace it with fly ash, which is consumed coal. It's the remnants of – when coal burns, the material that's left behind. They basically made piles of that in front of the fire. But the fire was able to easily move through that fly ash.”

Carolyn Martienssen

Community Activist
“The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has been trying to get fly ash regulated as a hazardous waste, and so far, they haven’t had any luck.”


Thomas E. White, M.A.

Folklore Historian at Duquesne University Pittsburgh
“The story of the curse in general is a good example of how legends and folklore like this, especially tales and curses, arise in times of crisis – usually during economic or community crisis. And often they are an attempt to explain conditions that seem unfathomable, or conditions that are really terrible.”

Dave Briggs

Member, organizer and lobbyist for the United Mine Workers of America
“The Molly Maguires were here (in Centralia) back in the 1860s and 1870s. When they were doing their thing, they used very hard tactics. They would damage property and they would kill and murder for the cause of fair mining wages.”

George A. Turner, Ph.D.

Emeritus History Professor at Bloomsburg University, Bloomsburg
“Since Alexander Rea had been seized, did not have any money and there was a considerable amount of drinking going on at the time, the decision was made to kill the man so he couldn’t talk.”


Stu Richardson

Historian, retired Aviation Electronics Technician from the U.S. Government
“Any aviation accident is a horrendous, horrific thing, because it’s dreadful to think of what happens to your body when you hit the ground at 250 miles an hour. It’s not a pleasant sight.”

Tim McTaggart

Former Resident of Centralia
“They didn’t have forensic scientist then, so they did have body parts that they found but they didn’t know which bodies they belonged to. So they put them all into a casket and buried them in St. Ignatius Cemetery in Centralia as a grave that was marked for those who had died in the plane crash.”