The president of Turkmenistan wants the Gates of Hell closed, despite using the flaming gas crater for publicity stunts in the past.
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov is calling for an end to one of his country’s most notable but infernal sights – the blazing natural gas crater widely referred to as the “Gates of Hell”.
The desert crater is about 260 kilometres north of the capital Ashgabat and is a popular sight for the handful of tourists who come to Turkmenistan, a country that is difficult to enter.
The Turkmen news site Turkmenportal said a gas-drilling collapse in 1971 formed the crater, which is about 60 metres in diameter and 20 metres deep.
To prevent the spread of gas, geologists set fire to the crater, expecting the gas to burn off in a few weeks.
The spectacular if unwelcome fire has burned since and has grown in size in the more than 50 years since it was first set alight.
In 2019, Mr Berdymukhamedov used the dramatic inferno as a backdrop for a television stunt broadcast on state TV.
After a brief disappearance led to rumours he had died, the President was filmed speeding around the flaming crater in an off-road truck, doing doughnuts to prove he was still alive.
The driving stunt, as well as a passion for dogs and a short-lived rap career have led some to label him an eccentric.
Mr Berdymukhamedov celebrated his passion for the nation’s local breed of dog, the alabai, with a gilded statue and a national holiday and has also written poetry and literature about the animals.
In 2018, he officially named the burning crater the “Shining of Karakum”.
It is also known as the Gates or Doors of Hell, and as the Darvaza Crater, for the nearby village of Darvaza.
State news outlets reported on Saturday (local time) that Mr Berdymukhamedov had ordered his government to look for ways to put the fire out, after failed attempts in the past.
He said he wants it quenched to prevent further ecological damage and because it is affecting the health of people living nearby, according to state newspaper Neitralny Turkmenistan.