Staying Put In Centralia

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CENTRALIA -- One day after we learned that the seven families still living in Centralia can stay in their homes until they die, some folks in nearby communities feel it makes perfect sense.

We found one of the very few residents left in Centralia at his house he didn't want to do an interview on camera. All he said to us was "now we can stay."

The Centralia saga has lasted for decades but now the state came to an agreement with residents bringing us to the final chapter of quite a story.

Streets that used to be lined with homes and buildings are empty. Stairs that used to go to houses now go nowhere. So do sidewalks overgrown with weeds.

This is the Centralia we now know, a place where only a few homes and residents remain.

A settlement with the state now says it can stay this way. Residents can stay until they die, then the last of the homes will come down.

"I have a lot of friends who had to leave up there. They were bought out and had to move to different places," said Jerome Schmoltze of Ashland.

We talked with Schmoltze at a restaurant in Ashland, just down the hill from Centralia. He's happy those left can stay put. He remembers a Centralia full of homes, full of life but he also watched as the mine fire a thousand of people out he helped friends move.

"I think it's a shame that it's not there (anymore), just a few houses that's all."

Much of Centralia used to be filled with row homes. The ones that remain will be coming down.

"I remember going up to Centralia many a time."

Robert Reichwein says it makes sense for the remaining residents to stay put. He thinks the mine fire that has burned for decades isn't burning near them.

"I go up that way once in a while and I don't see … steam coming out of the ground anymore.  Used to be on a damp day, vapor coming up from the ground."

But the settlement does set the stage for Centralia to be truly empty when the final few who live there are dead.

Part of the settlement with the state also provides the seven remaining residents of Centralia with a total of $218,000.

But we now know the place with a population you can count on your hands will someday have a population of zero.