A coal seam approximately 30 meters under Australia’s Mount Wingen has been burning continuously for approximately 6,000 years, earning the place its famous nickname, Burning Mountain.

Underground coal seam fires are not at all uncommon, in fact it’s estimated that about 1,000 coal seams are burning around the world at any one point. Such fires usually occur in coal-rich but less-developed countries, and are usually put out in a matter of days, a month at most. That’s not always the case though, and India’s Jharia coalfield, which has been burning continuously for over 100 years, is a perfect example. But even this century-old fire pales in comparison with the world’s oldest coal fire, an underground coal seem that has been smoldering for about six millennia.

Burning Mountain is Australia’s only naturally burning coal seam, as well as the world’s oldest coal fire. To the original Aboriginal owners of this land, it’s the fiery tears of a woman long since turned to stone by Biami, the sky god. To early explorers, it showed the obvious signs of volcanic activities, but in reality, it’s a slow-burning seam of coal smoldering about 30 meters underground.

The underground fire of Burning Mountain has been slowly moving southwards, at a rate of about a meter a year, and it is believed that in its entire 6,000-year history, it has covered a distance of about 6.5 kilometers.  No one knows exactly how the fire started, but scientists believe it must have been a lightning strike or a bushfire, although Aboriginals’ burning practices could be a cause as well.

 

The slow combustion has caused soil discoloration and an uneven ground surface on Mount Wingen. Vegetation in the area has also been affected by the underground fire, as evidenced by the increasingly bare and barren area as one approaches the smoking vents of Burning Mountain.

Despite the barren look of the area, Burning Mountain has become somewhat of a tourist attraction, with thousands of people flocking to this place to see the world’s oldest continuously burning coal fire. Or at least the smoke caused by it, as the smoldering coals are tens of meters underground.

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