And although most residents happily left the burning wasteland in the 1980s, some residents remained. These folks loved the town, smoke rising from the ground or not.
The story goes like this: half a century ago a landfill fire crept underground to an abandoned coal mine and it is still burning today.
"This used to be a town of about a thousand people with maybe four or five hundred houses. Now it's just… eight houses and eight people," David Dekok, author of Fire Underground, told the BBC.
The story is a poignant reminder of how our homes, the places we are born into or decide to inhabit, deeply inform our sense of self.
The remaining residents are fighting to stay, arguing that their neighborhood is safe from toxic gases and other threats related to the fire.
At this point, it seems like a fight of passion. It has been a decade since Centralia's zip code was revoked. Locals using eminent domain to fight against the seizure of their homes lost to authorities in a court ruling this month.
Matthew Danzico of the BBC just visited Centralia and met the remaining residents. Watch that video here.