The “Door to Hell” (also known as the Gate to Hell, the Crater of Fire, Darvaza Crater) is a natural gas field in Derweze, Turkmenistan, that collapsed into an underground cavern in 1971, becoming a natural gas crater. Geologists set it on fire to prevent the spread of methane gas, and it has been burning continuously since then. The diameter of the crater is 69 metres (226 ft), and its depth is 30 metres (98 ft).
The crater is a popular tourist attraction. In the past five years 50,000 tourists have visited the site. The gas crater has a total area of 5,350 m², the size of an American football field. The surrounding area is also popular for wild desert camping.
The gas crater is located near the Derweze village. It is in the middle of the Karakum Desert, about 260 kilometres (160 mi) north of Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan. The gas reserve found here is one of the largest in the world. The name “Door to Hell” was given to the field by the locals, referring to the fire, boiling mud, and orange flames in the large crater, which has a diameter of 70 metres (230 ft). The hot spots range over an area with a width of 60 metres (200 ft) and to a depth of about 20 metres (66 ft).
The “Door to Hell” and the surrounding area, including where the tents usually are pitched, a couple of hundred meters away to the south of the crater.
The site was identified by Soviet engineers 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. Soon after the preliminary survey found a natural gas pocket, the ground beneath the drilling rig and camp collapsed into a wide crater and was buried.
Expecting dangerous releases of poisonous gases from the cavern into nearby village, the engineers thought it best 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 more than four decades.
In April 2010, the president of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, visited the site and ordered that the hole should be closed, or measures be taken to limit its influence on the development of other natural gas fields in the area. Turkmenistan plans to increase its production of natural gas, intending to increase its export of gas to many countries such as Pakistan, China, India, Iran, Russia, and Western Europe, from its present yearly production level to 225 billion cubic metres (7.9×1012 cu ft) in the next 20 years.
The crater was featured in a Die Trying episode titled “Crater of Fire”. Explorer George Kourounis became the first person to ever set foot at the bottom, gathering samples of extremophile microorganisms. The episode was broadcast on the National Geographic Channel on July 16, 2014.