A massive crater known as the “Gates of Hell” that has been burning in the former Soviet republic of Turkmenistan’s desert for over 50 years is finally going to be extinguished. This effort is the latest attempt to squelch the fire inside the aptly nicknamed tourist attraction (although the site’s actual name is the Darvaza gas crater), after a similar effort in 2010 failed to extinguish the blaze.
BACKGROUND: SOVIET SCIENTISTS OPEN GATES OF HELL
In 1971, a drilling accident involving an underground gas cavern inside the Soviet republic of Turkmenistan caused the earth beneath the rig to collapse, leaving behind a gaping maw in the ground. In an effort to keep the noxious gas from spreading, the Soviet geologists working at the site decided to light the pit on fire. At the time, the hope was that the flames would consume the free-floating gas as well as any remnants still lurking underground, and then likely burn itself out within a few weeks.
Over 50 years later, the fires inside the Darvaza gas crater are still burning, despite previous attempts to douse the seemingly everlasting flames. Now, the President of the country is calling for another attempt, with hopes of extinguishing the flames permanently.
ANALYSIS: HELL’S GATES THREATEN HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENT
On January 8th, Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov made an appearance on the country’s state TV, announcing his intentions to close the Gates of Hell once and for all,
According to a report from Agence France-Presse (AFP), Berdymukhamedov told the TV audience that despite the gate’s attraction for tourists, it “negatively affects both the environment and the health of the people living nearby.”
“We are losing valuable natural resources for which we could get significant profits and use them for improving the well-being of our people,” added the President, before exhorting those within his government to “find a solution to extinguish the fire.”
At 229 feet wide and 65 feet deep, the crater has a fame all its own. In 2018, this same leader actually renamed the site the “Shining of Karakum.” A year later, he posted a video of himself driving dangerously close to the fiery pit to dispel rumors he had died.
OUTLOOK: NO FORMAL PLAN ANNOUNCED
Although the announcement seemed to catch a lot of the public off-guard, especially due to the site’s popularity with tourists, some have theorized that the country’s larger goals of capitalizing on its massive underground natural gas reservoirs are behind the latest announcement. This idea is consistent with the President’s recent statements.
Either way, if you have been interested in visiting the “Gates of Hell” while they still burn, you had better act fast. However, if you do miss out, I hear there is a particular crossroads in Clarksdale, Mississippi where once can talk to Hell’s caretaker in person.
Follow and connect with author Christopher Plain on Twitter: @plain_fiction