A fiery crater which has been belching out methane for more than 50 years may finally be closed as its country’s leader has ordered it be extinguished.
The Darvaza sinkhole in Turkmenistan has been burning since 1971 when it’s thought Soviets ignited it.
It’s said the gas emitted from the landmark is causing untold damage to locals’ health and the environment.
Dubbed the ‘Gates of Hell’ or ‘Mouth of Hell’, the blazing pit can be seen from miles around and has become a major tourist attraction in recent years.
But the country’s autocrat president now wants to see the crater sealed.
Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedo has made orders for his Government to hunt down experts to help close the sinkhole.
The leader, who is at the helm of one of the world’s most secretive nations, also says his country has missed opportunities to monetise the landmark by capturing saleable gas.
Located in the Karakum Desert around 160 miles north of the country’s capital, Ashgabat, the 230ft-wide and 70-ft deep sinkhole is wreaking havoc on public health with its ceaseless methane emissions, according to the leader.
Berdimuhamedov has previously tried unsuccessfully to close it back in 2010.
In 2013, he declared the surrounding area a natural reserve which has since become a tourist trap.
That same year, scientists were left baffled after samples taken from the bottom of the crater found a unique form of bacteria in existence, despite burning temperatures of an estimated 1,000 C.
Due to the country’s secretive nature, how exactly the crater was formed is not precisely clear.
The most popular theory is that bungling Soviet geologists intentionally set it ablaze in 1971 to prevent the spread of methane gas.
However, it’s also thought the crater itself formed in the 1960s before being later set alight.
No records exist of either the Soviets’ or the Turkmens’ version of events.
Explaining his decision to freeze over the so-called ‘Gates of Hell’, Berdimuhamedov said: “We are creating – and will continue to create – all necessary conditions for the development of the colossal hydrocarbon resources of our independent Motherland, in the interests of our people.”
The president has been in power for 16 years and is known for his totalitarian regime.
Formerly a dentist, he has previously commissioned a 68ft statue of himself, adorned in gold leaf, as well as a second to commemorate Turkmenistan’s most famous dog.
He is also a keen racer and regularly partakes in events which he wins every time. In 2019, he raced a car around the crater and shared a video of the stunt to respond to rumours he was dead following a month-long absence from the public eye.