the perpetual fire

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Year 1916. The battle of Verdun, the longest and bloodiest of the First World War, ends. In Spain, reigns Alfonso XIII, great-grandfather of the current King Felipe VI. And in India a fire starts after an accident in open-cast coal mines. This last fact might seem irrelevant to the story if it weren't for the fact that the fire is still active.

And it is that 106 years after the fire was declared, the inhabitants of Jharía continue to see how the almost 300 square kilometers of mining lands that surround their city burn. The town, located in northwestern India, is coping as best it can with the social, health and environmental consequences of this perpetual fire.

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Hundreds of inhabitants have died for a century in this mine, which will continue to burn for another 3,800 years.

Although the mine continues to burn, its exploitation continues to be essential for the economic survival of thousands of families living in extreme poverty. Coal extraction allows them to earn two or three dollars a day, despite being an illegal and highly dangerous activity.

Both adults and young people access the mine in terrible security conditions. They carry baskets of coal weighing up to 25 kilos and they do so on black, smoky and very unstable slopes. “It is dangerous to live here. The ground is collapsing,” Mahto, a young woman who goes to the mine but dreams of being a nurse, told Agence France Presse.

“The fires destroyed the area. There is nothing else to do, here you can not grow anything. We are twelve in the family and we collect coal illegally... Sometimes we fill one or two baskets, or we leave empty. It's difficult because the authorities throw us out, but we can't feed our families in any other way... That's our life”, affirms another woman whose testimony serves to exemplify the thousands of personal stories from the Indian mine.

The combustion of coal causes sinkholes to form capable of swallowing people and all kinds of infrastructure. Hundreds of inhabitants have died for this reason over the hundred years that the mine has been burning. Over time, there will surely be more deaths, due to respiratory and skin diseases that appear after being exposed to an unbreathable atmosphere for so many years.

The millions of tons of coal that are incessantly calcining emit enormous amounts of CO2, a highly harmful gas for human health that irritates the eyes and complicates the functioning of the lungs. In fact, 60% of the inhabitants of Jharía suffer from respiratory problems. Added to this are skin diseases caused by soot, evil dust that expels carbon and that permeates all surfaces.

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Both CO2 emissions and soot cause significant environmental damage in a country that is already highly polluted and polluting. Half of its greenhouse gas emissions come from the coal industry, making India the third country in the world in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, behind only China and the United States.

Despite environmental problems, mining is a key productive sector for India, which has one of the largest coal deposits in the world. A fuel that generates about 70% of the energy consumed by the Asian giant.

The activity of the Jharía mine began in 1894. The extraction of coal developed normally until 1916, when the accident that unleashed the fire occurred. One hundred years later, the reason for the incident remains unknown, although it was most likely a mistake in the closure of the mines, according to the authorities.

After a century burning, the question now is how long the fire will continue to burn. Taking into account that there are still 1.5 billion tons of coal to burn, experts expect the mine to continue burning for another 3,800 years. There is nothing. Almost four centuries of smoke and flames without ceasing for a single minute. In other words: a perpetual fire.

Living in smoke and flames

The lands of Jharía do not stop vomiting smoke and flames between the houses. Meanwhile, the population roams the black slopes with the aim of making a living extracting coal. Fire is part of the daily life of the inhabitants of the Indian city.

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Nathan Rivera
Allow me to introduce myself. I am Nathan Rivera, a dedicated journalist who has had the privilege of writing for the online newspaper Today90. My journey in the world of journalism has been a testament to the power of dedication, integrity, and passion.

My story began with a relentless thirst for knowledge and an innate curiosity about the events shaping our world. I graduated with honors in Investigative Journalism from a renowned university, laying the foundation for what would become a fulfilling career in the field.

What sets me apart is my unwavering commitment to uncovering the truth. I refuse to settle for superficial answers or preconceived narratives. Instead, I constantly challenge the status quo, delving deep into complex issues to reveal the reality beneath the surface. My dedication to investigative journalism has uncovered numerous scandals and shed light on issues others might prefer to ignore.

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Throughout my career, I have been honored with numerous awards and recognitions for my outstanding work in journalism. My investigations have changed policies, exposed corruption, and given a voice to those who had none. My commitment to truth and justice makes me a beacon of hope in a world where misinformation often prevails.

At Today90, I continue to be a driving force behind journalistic excellence. My tireless dedication to fair and accurate reporting is an invaluable asset to the editorial team. My biography is a living testament to the importance of journalism in our society and a reminder that a dedicated journalist can make a difference in the world.