Eternal Flames: Derweze, Turkmenistan

Photo: Lockenes/Shutterstock

Door to Hell, Derweze, Turkmenistan

Located in the middle of the Karakum Desert, this natural gas field was discovered in the 1970s by Soviet petrochemical engineers. Shortly after the drilling operation was established, the ground underneath the site collapsed, burying the rig and camp. Luckily, no lives were lost, but as large quantities of poisonous methane gas spewed from the site, engineers decided the safest option would be to set the gas alight and let it burn off rather than endanger nearby villagers by continuing to extract it. They expected it would only take a few weeks for the gas to burn out, but 40 years later, the Door to Hell is still burning strong.

* * *
Eternal Flames: Centralia, Pennsylvania

Photo: Douglas Muth/Flickr

Centralia, Pennsylvania

Once a bustling community of more than 1,000 residents, Centralia became a ghost town after an uncontrollable coal mine fire forced the evacuation of almost all of its residents in 1984. The fire is believed to have sparked in 1962, but it wasn't until a few decades later that residents began noticing the tangible effects of having a subterranean wildfire blazing underneath their homes and businesses. Today, Centralia's population stands at less than 10 people, though there are plenty of tourists who stop by to explore the melting asphalt and sinkholes.

* * *
Eternal Flame Falls

Photo: Wikimedia

Eternal Flame Falls, Orchard Park, New York

Situated behind a waterfall in Chestnut Ridge County Park, this small flickering fire is produced by a deposit of natural gas emanating from beneath the rock. The flame sometimes sputters out, so it's technically not an "eternal" flame, but passing hikers carrying lighters waste no time in re-lighting it if they notice it has gone out.

* * *
Eternal Flames: Erta Ale

Photo: Rainer Albiez/Shutterstock

Erta Ale, Ethiopia

This "Smoking Mountain," as it translates in the Afar language, is a 613-meter-high basaltic shield volcano located in an Ethiopian desert known as the Afar Depression. It is notable for its active lava lake, a phenomenon that is so rare that only six examples currently exist on the planet. Erta Ale's lake is especially notable because it's the world's longest-existing lava lake.

* * *
Eternal Flames: Jharia coal fields

Photo: International Accountability Project/Flickr

Jharia Coal Fields, Jharkand, India

These smoldering fields are one of India's most valuable coal resources. They're also the site of a underground fire that has been burning for nearly a century. Unlike the residents of Centralia, hundreds of thousands of people still reside in Jharia despite the clear danger of living directly above a raging underground fire.

* * *
Eternal Flames: Guanziling

Photo: Alexander Synaptic/Flickr

Guanziling, Tainan, Taiwan

Because the town of Guanziling sits on a fault line containing methane deposits, the gas often escapes into the air through cracks in the Earth. In the case of the famous "Water-Fire Cave" above, methane bubbles that emerge from the hot springs provide fuel to a flame that, according to legend, was lit more than 300 years ago!

* * *
Eternal Flames: Yanar Dag

Photo: Nick Taylor/Flickr

Yanar Dag, Baku, Azerbaijan

The country of Azerbaijan is often referred to as the Land of Fire, and as evidenced with Yanar Dag ("burning mountain" in the Azerbaijani language), that's no exaggeration. Emanating from a weak layer of porous sandstone on a hillside on the Absheron Peninsula, this ever-burning natural gas fire is capable of shooting 9-foot flames. The best time to observe the colors of the flames is at dusk.

* * *
Eternal Flames: Baba Gurgur

Photo: Wikimedia

Baba Gurgur, Kirkuk, Iraq

This burning oil field is one of the largest in the world — second only to Saudi Arabia's Ghawar field. Energy uses aside, Baba Gurgur is also an important cultural and spiritual site for the local residents. In ancient times when fire worshipping was common, expectant mothers visited the site to pray for baby boys.

Some believe this burning field is referenced in the Bible as the "fiery furnace" of the Old Testaments' Book of Daniel. In that story, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon threw a group of Hebrews into the flames for refusing to idol worship.

* * *
Eternal Flames: Chimaera

Photo: Carole Raddato/Flickr

Yanartaş, Olympos Coastal National Park, Turkey

Yanartaş is believed to be the ancient Mount Chimaera, where the legend of the mythical chimera emerged. A chimera is a fire-breathing hybrid monster than is composed of body parts from several different animals (usually a lion, goat and snake).

This odd geographical site features dozens of little fires that are caused by methane gas vents inside the rocks. It's estimated that the fires have been burning for more than 2,500 years.

* * *

Related content on MNN: