As much as I love researching Pennsylvania history, I wouldn’t have attended the Historical Society meeting if my husband hadn’t been interested. This is a busy season for me with substituting and textbook buying. I’m glad he wanted to go read more
David Dekok spoke at the Juniata County Historical Society meeting, held at Walker Grange in Mexico, Pennsylvania, on April 13, 2016. He is an excellent speaker, able to present a story in an organized, easy to listen to way. He told of his early history as a reporter and how he happened to make the Centralia tragedy one of his lifelong projects. He knows the facts, the people, and the events that brought the sad circumstances of a fire burning underground to the forefront of news in the 1970s. Everyone should hear the story as he tells it.
In 1975, David Dekok dreamed of being a newspaper reporter. He struggled to find a job. At last, the Shamokin News-Item gave him a chance at fulfilling his dream. The entrance into the Centralia, Pennsylvania, story happened by accident when another reporter couldn’t attend the regular meeting of the Centralia Borough Council. Mr. Dekok went instead. At the meeting, the council members discussed a fire burning underground near the town. Mr. Dekok had some experience with underground fires from traveling with his rock hound parents to North Dakota where he saw coal veins burning at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The mention of the fire peaked Mr. Dekok’s interest. He wondered why he hadn’t heard of it before.
From that time, he began to go back again and again to the area to find out about the current effects of the fire and write about it. His stories picked up by national wire services caused other reporters to visit the area from all over the world. The diligent reporting by Mr. Dekok and others helped get government help for the people to relocate.
The most interesting fact Mr. Dekok revealed had to do with the cause of the mine fire. For years, the public believed that spontaneous combustion started the fire. Mr. Dekok found the real reason to be a fire lit by the firemen of the town trying to get rid of a garbage dump. They didn’t mean to set the underground coal deposits on fire. The town kept it a secret because they felt no one would help if they knew that the town itself had started the fire.
Mr. Dekok has written a book about the history of the fire called Fire Underground: The Ongoing Tragedy of the Centralia Mine Fire.
Check out his website: daviddekok.com