At the heart of Turkmenistan’s the Karakum Desert sits a crater of fire the size of a football field that’s been perpetually burning now for almost 50 years.
Locals have suitably dubbed it the ‘Door To Hell’ – officially it’s known as the Darvaza Gas Crater. According to Turkmen geologist Anatoly Bushmakin, Soviet engineers identified the site in 1971. It was originally thought to be a substantial oil field site. The engineers set up a drilling rig and operations to assess the quantity of oil available at the site.
DOOR TO HELL!! See This Place In The Karakum Desert That Has Been Burning For Almost 50 Years!
Soon after the preliminary survey found a natural gas pocket, the ground beneath the drilling rig and camp collapsed into a wide crater, and they buried the rig with no casualties. Expecting dangerous releases of poisonous gases from the cavern into nearby towns, the engineers considered it advisable to burn the gas off.
It was estimated that the gas would burn out within a few weeks, but it has instead continued to burn for 49 years and is expected to keep on burning. The early years of the crater’s history are uncertain: local geologists say the collapse into a crater happened in the 1960s, and the gases were not set on fire until the 1980s.
There are, however, no records available of either the Soviet or Turkmen version of events. In April 2010, the President of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, visited the site and ordered that the hole should be closed. In 2013, he declared the part of the Karakum Desert with the crater a nature reserve.
In 2019, he appeared on state television doing doughnuts around the crater to disprove rumors of his death. Door to Hell is a 230-foot-wide crater in the middle of the desert near the village of Deweze. In 1971, a team of Soviet scientists set up a drilling platform looking for natural gas reserves.
The rig collapsed, and fearing the spread of poisonous methane gas, the researchers set the crater on fire, hoping it would burn out in a few hours. That was over 40 years ago. The site is still burning, attracting hundreds of tourists every year, even though the country’s president ordered it to be filled in 2010.
If extinguished, the gas wouldn’t stop, you’d have to cap every fissure within proximity of the site, which would be expensive and inefficient. Turkmenistan’s natural gas reserves rank fifth in the world, but a lack of international pipelines has hampered development efforts.