Mining started in Jharia, Jharrkhand, India in the 1890s, and by 1916 newspapers were reporting underground coal fires. Most fires started by spontaneous combustion; the deep mine tunnels had been improperly vented, leading to a build-up of volatile gases. Those fires have now burned for nearly a century, smoldering and spreading over 60 square kilometers. Locals in Jharia live over dozens of these underground coal fires that pump out toxic fumes, and fire pits have led to several deaths and collapsed homes. Residents work alongside the fires, breathing fumes for up to 9 hours a day. The coal they collect earns them around 1usd a day at the local markets. With coal scavenging a primary source of income for many residents, a proposed government relocation of residents is being met with resistance.
Coal supplies 70% of India’s energy and the largest concentration of the country’s coal fields are in Jharrkhand.