There's Fire Down below; ANSWERS TO CORRESPONDENTS

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QUESTION In the Sixties, a fire ignited a seam of anthracite in a mine in Centralia, Pennsylvania. Is it still burning?

THIS fire is still burning and could do so for another 40 years.

Centralia, 110 miles north-west of Philadelphia, is located on Locust Mountain, founded in 1866 by Irish, Polish and Ukrainian miners. With anthracite being one of the most expensive coals in the world, the living was hard, but good.

In late April 1962, a small fire began in the town's rubbish dump.

This was soon extinguished on the surface, but underground it spread to one of the smaller anthracite seams and then into the 14 seams below the town.

By July, all the seams had been ignited and several plans to put out the fire were undertaken. The state authorities first tried to dig out the burning anthracite. Then specialists poured non-combustible slime into the ground. Further costly attempts all failed.

In August 1980, the U.S. Bureau of Mines officially announced it would 'do nothing and let the fire burn itself out'. In 1983, as the fire reached its peak underground, the U.S. Government, concerned about the rising smoke and potential building collapses, passed a bill allocating $42 million to relocate all the citizens in Centralia. By 1986 only 100 people remained.

Today, Centralia is home to fewer than 20 people, and almost all the town's buildings have been demolished.

Angus McLean, Edinburgh.

THE oldest underground fire is at Burning Mountain Nature Reserve in New South Wales, Australia, and it has been alight for more than 2,000 years.

It is thought to have been started by a bolt of lightning striking an outcrop of coal near the surface of the ground.

E. Snushall, Dunstable, Bedfordshire.

QUESTION On February 6, I received a letter from my daughter in Tokyo, posted on February 4. Is this a record?

I SENT a letter to a friend in Port Hedland, West Australia, on a Tuesday.

She received it two days later. I was amazed because it took eight days for my grandson, who lives ten miles away in Romford, to receive a birthday card I sent him.

Andree Warrington, Plaistow, East London.

QUESTION Is it true that shortly before his death, Charles Darwin disowned all his philosophies and theories on the evolution of man?

FURTHER to the earlier answer, Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882) never totally denied a belief in God.

In the conclusion of his work On

The Origin Of Species, he says: 'There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one.' He recognised the limitations of his theory and knew it didn't explain everything, commenting that the fossil record didn't contain the transitional links required to support it. He passed off the difficulty by stating that the fossil record was at fault. …