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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

'Door To Hell': Turkmenistan Crater Has Been On Fire For Over 40 Years

In 1971, the Soviets opened the Door to Hell, and 42 years later that door is still open. A natural gas field in Derweze, Turkmenistan, the Door to Hell is the site of a former Soviet oil operation that went wrong when a rig collapsed into a large crater. Soviet geologists decided the best thing to do was light the crater on fire to burn off its poisonous methane gas, but things didn't go as planned, and the fire still burns today.
The "Door to Hell" in Turkmenistan has been burning since 1971. Soviet geologists lit it on fire and thought it would only burn for a few days. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Locals in Derweze, a village of about 350 souls, took to calling the site the Door to Hell, and its blaze can be seen from miles away. Located in Turkmenestan's Karakum Desert--a vast, sandy region with only one person per 2.5 square miles--the Door to Hell has become something of an unlikely tourist destination. One firsthand account of a visit to the Door to Hell comes from a 57-year-old Scotsman named Will Keeping.

"During daylight, I was initially not impressed as it looked like a hole in a vast desert," Keeping told The Daily Star. "As we got nearer and the glow from inside the carter became evident, though, and I started to notice the size of the crater and wondered how it could continually glow like that." Keeping added that as night came on, "the location slowly transformed from a large, isolated furnace in the middle of the desert into the center of attention that dominated the surrounding area--the glow became more intense and lit up the area including the sky above."

Another visitor to the the 200-foot wide, 70-foot-deep crater was Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, the president of of Turkmenistan. In 2010, Berdimuhamedow swung by the Door to Hell and ordered that the fiery crater be closed, but this hasn't happened.

While the 42-year Door to Hell fire is impressive, it pales in comparison to an American fire that has been going for more than half a century. On May 17, 1962, the fire department of the coal-mining town of Centralia, Penn., tried to clean up the town landfill by setting its contents on fire. The blaze ignited a coal seam and spread throughout the town's mines, releasing poisonous gasses and creating dangerous sinkholes. The town was condemned, and 1,400 Centralia residents left; a handful who remained were recently granted permission by the courts to keep their homes until their deaths.

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