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Pennsylvania's abandoned 'Graffiti Highway' in Centralia ghost town is permanently shut down

'Graffiti Highway' - Pennsylvania's oddest tourist attraction is the latest casualty in the coronavirus pandemic. The .74- mile long abandoned stretch of Route 61 that runs through the ghost town of Centralia has been a local landmark since 1993 when tag artists saw a blank canvas on the forgotten length of cracked asphalt.  

Now the colorful highway will be closed permanently and covered in dirt as a direct result from the spike in visitors amid the coronavirus pandemic that has swept through the nation, closing schools, businesses and forcing people to work from home. 

'It's ridiculous,' Centralia's fire chief and emergency management director, Tom Hynoski told the Daily Item. 'Oh my God, it’s crazy. They're supposed to be staying home due to the COVID-19 but they're coming from New York and New Jersey to be here.' 

A dump truck unloads a pile of dirt onto 'Graffiti Highway' outside the ghost town of Centralia, Pennsylvania in an effort to curb the spike in people visiting the local landmark during the coronavirus pandemic

'Graffiti Highway' is a .74- mile long abandoned stretch of Route 61 that was closed in 1993  after it had been damaged beyond repair and deemed 'extremely dangerous' from an underground coal mine fire that has been burning since 1962  

The old section of Route 61 was purchased from Pennsylvania's Department of Transportation in 2018 by Pagnotti Enterprises. Despite being on private property with no trespassing allowed, illegal visitors have come out in droves to visit the local landmark's smoldering, cracked painted asphalt amid the corona virus pandemic. 'They got sick of the complaints and the liability,' said Tom Hynoski, Centralia's fire chief and emergency management director to the Daily Item

The colorful strip of road was purchased from Pennsylvania's Department of Transportation by Pagnotti Enterprises in 2018. The owners were recently left with no recourse but to cover the spontaneous public art piece as it posed a significant health threat and potential spreading-ground for the deadly virus.   

Pennsylvania State Route 61 was permanently closed in 1993 after it was irrevocably damaged from an underground coal mine fire that has been burning in the nearby town of Centralia since 1962. The fire which underlies roughly 400-acres ravaged the once thriving middle class town with 1,500 residents and as of 2017, only five residents remain. 

The subterranean blaze has been impossible to contain as it continues to be fueled by the abundant supply of natural coal in Columbia County. By 1992, the government condemned the entire Columbia County town claimed all the real-estate through eminent domain.

High school student Emily Hessling of Easton, Pennsylvania spray paints her name on the abandoned portion of Route 61, commonly known as the 'Graffiti Highway.' The state highway was closed in 1993 and re-routed to bypass the town of Centralia after damages from the 1962 coal mine fire made it unsafe to travel  

Smoke rises from a large crack in Pennsylvania Highway 61, caused by the underground coal fire which has been burning for almost 60 years.  The fire began when the city of Centralia attempted to control burn the local landfill which was in the location of an old, defunct mining pit. But the controlled landfill burn was not fully extinguished and it crept through an unsealed opening in the pit which allowed the fire to enter the labyrinth of abandoned coal mines beneath Centralia 

Large, rowdy crowds have been gathering at the hot spot in recent weeks. 'I think a few weeks ago, there was a fire there, people just starting fires,' said Vincent Guarna, president of the Fox Coal Company that was hired by Pagnotti Enterprises to cover the road

State troopers have been monitoring the Graffiti Highway more intensely by have struggled to keep up with the large swaths of visitors. Authorities chased away nearly 100 people on Monday alone

The fire began on May 27, 1962  when the city of Centralia was conducting their yearly controlled-burn of the local landfill before Memorial Day weekend. The garbage landfill was located in an out-of-commission coal mining pit. The controlled fire was not properly extinguished and flames crept through an unsealed opening in the pit which allowed the fire to enter and rapidly spread through the labyrinth of abandoned coal mines beneath Centralia 

Grafitti Highway has long been a popular stop for tourists visiting the Keystone State. David Witchey, the chief clerk of Columbia County told the Daily Item that he gets more calls from all across the country about the painted highway than he does for official attractions in the area. 

Ever since Pennsylvania and its surrounding states have issued stay at home orders for residents amid the COVID-19 crisis on, the roadway attraction has seen an even greater influx of people. 

Dirt is being brought from a mining operation roughly three miles away in Wilburton, Pennsylvania with the hope to plant trees in the future. The idea is to eliminate the temptation that Graffiti Highway brings for potential vandalism and looky-loos trespassing on private property

A dump truck drives up the former Route 61, also known as Graffiti Highway after dropping off a load of fill on Monday, April 6, 2020. The road is being covered over with dirt following complaints about large numbers of people congregating at the outdoor site amid the coronavirus pandemic lockdown

A resident from nearby the Graffiti Highway laments the permanent closure of the local attraction

Centralia Pennsylvania is a virtual ghost town that has been wiped from most maps. It has been deemed uninhabitable due to a widespread mine fire that has burned for almost 60 years, exposing the residents to deadly gases

Large, rowdy crowds have been gathering at the hot spot in recent weeks. Some have brought their dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles to race down the abandoned stretch of pavement. Tailgating party people, wielding spray cans have left piles of liter and assorted damage. 

'I think a few weeks ago, there was a fire there, people just starting fires,' said Vincent Guarna, president of the Fox Coal Company that was hired by Pagnotti Enterprises to cover the road. 'They're doing a lot of damage to the community there, and it's time that ends right now,' he told WNEP-TV.    

State troopers have been monitoring the Graffiti Highway more intensely by have struggled to keep up with the large swaths of visitors. Authorities chased away nearly 100 people on Monday alone, said Tom Hynoski. The owners got fed up and felt that the site posed a serious problem. 

'They got sick of the complaints and the liability,' said Hynoski. 'People steal stuff, they spray paint in the cemetery, it’s about time something gets done.'

A before and after picture taken in 1983 (left) and 2000 (right) shows the drastic changes done to Centralia's main street, Locust Avenue that was reclaimed by the government through imminent domain after an underground coal fire has been raging throughout the town since an accident in 1962

Pictured above are the few remaining hold-outs who refused government offers of compensation  in the ghost town of Centralia that has been plagued by an underground fire that releases  smoke, fumes and toxic gases into the air

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