Turkmenistan Plans to Extinguish Its Massive ‘Gateway to Hell'

It's been blazing since 1971, when a Soviet drilling operation went wrong.
Derya Ozdemir

Located in the Karakum desert, around 161.5 miles (260 km) away from Turkmenistan’s capital, Ashgabat, the Darvaza gas crater has been ablaze for the past 50 years.

The decades-old fire's story, which is 226 ft (69 m) wide and 98 ft (30 m) deep, is shrouded in mystery; however, it's most generally attributed to a drilling mishap. The story goes that it was created in 1971 when a Soviet drilling accident struck a gas cavern, forcing the drilling rig to fall in and the earth beneath it to collapse. To keep the toxic gases from spreading, the scientists decided to burn off the gas by setting it on fire, grossly underestimating the amount of fuel beneath their feet. 

The scientists thought it would burn out in a couple of weeks. But today, more than 50 years later, the fire is still going strong. But, hopefully, that won't be for too long.

Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov wants experts to find a means to put out the fire in the “gateway to hell" gas crater, claiming that it "negatively affects both the environment and the health of the people living nearby", according to Agence France-Presse.

“We are losing valuable natural resources for which we could get significant profits and use them for improving the wellbeing of our people,” Berdymukhamedov said. This means that if the fire can be put out, the gas from the human-made crater could be exported instead of being wasted away.

This is not Berdymukhamedov's first attempt to close the "gateway to hell". Back in 2010, he had again urged experts to extinguish the fires, but their efforts were futile. It will be intriguing to see if scientists can discover a means to put out the fire this time, as many of the previous efforts have failed.

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As it continues to burn, however, the abandoned crater has become one of the ex-Soviet country's most popular tourist spots, with the president officially renaming it "Shining of Karakum" in 2018.

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