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This Fire in Australia Has Been Burning For The Last 6,000 Years

You might have heard about the coal seam gas fire that’s raging furiously beneath the now-defunct town of Centralia in Pennsylvania, US. However, this fire has only been burning for the past 53 years – roughly comparable to a similar blaze burning for an estimated 6,000 years in a national park four hours north of Sydney in Australia, long before the country was settled by Europeans.

The coal steam flame, visible only as some foul-smelling steam, is contained 30 meters below the surface of Mount Wingen (which means “fire” in the local Aboriginal language) or Burning Mountain in the state of New South Wales. It is also the oldest fire in the world.

No one knows what started the coal seam fire, but Aboriginal cultures have utilized it for thousands of years for warmth, cooking, and tool making, according to traditional Wanaruah traditions.

It was found by European settlers in 1828 when the heat was mistakenly attributed to volcanic activity.  

According to sources, the initial spark may have been a lightning strike, forest fire, spontaneous combustion, or even Aboriginal burning rituals.

While it is not a particularly hospitable environment, it has become a tourist attraction, with surface temperatures of around 350 degrees Celsius and the discharge of bitter sulphur.

Although it’s an unusual sight, coal seam fires like this one aren’t uncommon; in fact, it’s estimated that approximately 1,000 are burning around the world at any given moment. And many of them will most certainly continue to do so for a long time.

In an interview, Guillermo Rein, an underground fire expert at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, said that they’re nearly impossible to extinguish.

“Smoldering fires, the slow, low-temperature, flameless form of combustion, are an important phenomenon in the Earth system and the most persistent type of combustion. The most important fuels involved in smoldering fires are coal and peat. Once ignited, these fires are particularly difficult to extinguish despite extensive rains, weather changes, or firefighting attempts and can persist for long periods (months, years), spreading deep (5 meters) and over extensive areas of forest subsurface. Indeed, smoldering fires are the longest continuously burning fires on Earth.”

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