Tag Archives: The Karakum Desert

The Door to Hell

Most Shock Totem readers are likely familiar with a little slice of hell on earth known as Centralia, Pennsylvania. This is the coal mining town that was featured in the video game series and film Silent Hill. It was also a missed opportunity for the Shock Totem staff when we visited last August, as our host, John Boden, refused to take us there. There’s still a bit of bad blood over that incident, but that’s a bit off the subject. =P

It all began in 1962, when some sanitation workers were burning trash right next to an exposed vein of high quality anthracite coal. The surface flames were quickly extinguished, but the fire continued to burn in the coal deposits under the town, resisting all efforts to contain it and finally forcing the evacuation of almost all of the town’s inhabitants by 1981.

Of course, this was the height of the Cold War, so naturally if Americans were lighting the earth on fire, the Russians would have to top us, right?

Well, they did a fine job.

In 1971, Soviet geologists were doing exploratory drilling in the Karakum Desert, near the town of Darvaza, in present day Turkmenistan. They unexpectedly hit a large underground cavern filled with natural gas, resulting in the collapse of the drilling rig. Because of concerns that the poisonous fumes would pose a danger to the population of Darvaza, the geologists decided to burn off the gas.

What they didn’t account for was the large quantity of gas in the chamber and lower reserves. The crater, with a diameter of 230 feet (70 meters), is still burning today. Local residents refer to it as The Door to Hell.

I’m not sure if anyone has tried to lower a microphone into it to actually record the cries of the damned, but I don’t think it would go well if they did. This thing is massive and HOT!

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