The president of Turkmenistan announced plans this year to extinguish the country's famous "Gates of Hell" gas crater. But it's by no means the only one of its kind. We rounded up the eternal flames still burning in all corners of the globe.
On Jan. 8, Turkmenistan’s leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, known for his authoritarian tendencies, announced on television that he had set his sights on the Darvaza Gas Crater, also known as the “Gates of Hell”, a mysterious vat of flames that has been spewing fire for over 50 years in the Karakum Desert.
The burning crater is one of the central Asian country’s few tourist attractions, yet President Berdymukhamedov has ordered it extinguished once and for all, saying the methane-belching pit was bad for the environment and locals’ health, while also representing a lost opportunity for the impoverished nation to capture marketable gas.
Even If Turkmenistan is set to clean up and close down its “Gates of Hell,” this doesn’t necessarily spell the end for fans of eternal fires. Here are seven still burning from Iraq and Taiwan to the U.S. and beyond.
Baba Gurgur, Iraq
Soldiers near Baba Gurgur
Baba Gurgur, (بابە گوڕگوڕ) which translates to “Father of Fire'' in Kurdish is located near the city of Kirkuk, in Northern Iraq. This place was known as the world's largest oilfield in the world, until the Ghawar Field was found in Saudi Arabia in 1948, and is home to an Eternal fire, claimed to have been burning for some 4,000 years.
The flames, burning for thousands of years over a small patch of land in the oil field, have inspired legends and hope for locals who believed it had magical properties.
Yanartas's Mount Chimaera eternal firecommons.wikimedia.org
Known in Turkish as Yanartas, meaning “Burning Rock,” Mount Chimaera features a cluster of small flames that burn on a rocky mountainside. The dozen little fires are caused by methane gas vents and have been burning for an estimated 2,500 years.
Visitors have reported that at night it looked like “hell itself has come to pay a visit.” This odd geographical site is believed to be where the legend of the chimera, a mythical fire-breathing creature made of goat, lion and a lion serpent’s body, came up.
Eternal Flame Falls, United States
Eternal Flame Falls in Chestnut Ridge County Parkwww.flickr.com
This eternal flame flickers inside a grotto, just behind a waterfall in Chestnut Ridge County Park in the U.S. state of New York, south of the Canadian border. This fire, visible throughout the year — even when the waterfall freezes over! — is fueled by a natural gas deposit believed to be coming from a natural hydrocarbon seep.
Sometimes, all it needs is a little help from tourists and passersby to be reignited.
The Burning Water ( 水火同源), TaiwanFile:水火同源.JPG - Wikimedia Commonscommons.wikimedia.org
Similar to the eternal flame falls in New York, this eternal flame burns close to water. The Hot Spring Eternal Flame is located in Guanziling in Taiwan and is said to have been started by an earthquake that opened a fissure in the earth. It has been burning for more than 300 years, fueled by methane gas deposits beneath. The fire then escapes from a crack in the rocks near pools of hot springs.
Gates of Hell, Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan's Gates of Hellcommons.wikimedia.org
The Karakum Desert burning crater is considered mysterious, but most believe it is the result of a Soviet drilling accident that hit a gas cavern in 1971. The ground then collapsed, and the hole was reportedly lit on fire to prevent natural gas from spreading and has been burning since that day in the gigantic crater.
Turkmenistan has vowed to gather top scientists to figure out how to extinguish the Gates of Hell, although there are no current estimates on how much the operation might cost.
Centralia, United States
Cracked highway from subsurface coal fire near Centralia, Pennsylvaniawww.flickr.com
Located in a quiet valley of Columbia County, Pennsylvania, Centralia was once a bustling mining center with a population of roughly 1,000 people. It has since become a smoldering ghost town, after an uncontrollable coal mine fire forced the evacuation of almost all of its residents in 1984. The fire spread from the surface to the underground seams and has kept burning since.
As of 2020, Centralia only had five residents left, who, in spite of being surrounded by smoking rubble, continue living life as normal.
Murchison, New Zealand
Eternal flames at Murchison, New Zeland
The tiny, isolated New Zealand village of Murchison is home to a perplexing cauldron of smokeless flames, which have been burning since the 1920s. Legend has it that two hunters took a break and sat down in the bush to smoke. One threw away his match, suddenly igniting natural gas which was leaking from the ground right next to him. This bizarre bowl of flames has kept burning ever since.
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