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Turkmenistan’s leader wants to extinguish the country’s ‘Gates of Hell’

The crater fire named “Gates of Hell” is seen near Darvaza, Turkmenistan, on July 11, 2020. The president of Turkmenistan is calling for an end to one of the country's most notable but infernal sights. (Alexander Vershinin/AP)

If Turkmenistan’s president has his way, the “Gates of Hell” may soon be shut.

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov said in televised remarks Saturday that he wants to extinguish the famous flaming natural gas crater that has burned in the Central Asian country for decades, Agence France-Presse reported.

The president raised environmental and economic concerns and asked his government to find ways to put the fire out.

The crater “negatively affects both the environment and the health of the people living nearby,” Berdymukhamedov said, according to AFP. “We are losing valuable natural resources for which we could get significant profits and use them for improving the well-being of our people.”

Officially called the Darvaza gas crater, the blazing pit in the middle of the Karakum desert has long been a draw for the few tourists permitted to visit Turkmenistan. About 200 feet wide by some measures and at least 70 feet deep, it cuts a dramatic image against the vast expanse of empty land surrounding it.

The crater’s formation has often been attributed to a Soviet drilling accident in 1971. Geologists supposedly lit one of the large sinkholes created by the accident on fire to try to burn off the methane there. But Turkmen geologists said the crater may have been formed in the 1960s and lit two decades later, BBC Travel reported, and its origin remains a mystery.

Berdymukhamedov also ordered experts to endeavor to extinguish the flames in 2010, to no avail.

Canadian-born scientific explorer George Kourounis became the first person to touch the bottom of the crater in 2013, wearing a heat-resistant suit. Reaching the bottom “felt like being on another planet,” Kourounis told Insider in 2020.

“The walls are lit up. Everything is glowing orange from the fire. There’s poisonous gas everywhere,” he said.