Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov is shutting down one of the country's few tourist attractions — the Darvaza gas crater.
Also known as the Gates of Hell, the fire has been burning for decades some 260 kilometres from the country’s capital of Ashgabat.
At a televised government meeting this month, Berdymukhamedov argued that the flaming pit was burning up an “enormous volume of gas” that could be otherwise be used “to ensure the prosperity of [Turkmen] people”.
The president said environmental and health considerations also weighed on his decision to invest into an expensive and technically challenging operation to extinguish the burning gas.
Known by some as the Door to Hell, the crater with burning gas seeps has been increasingly marked as a must-see destination in Turkmenistan, along with the country’s ancient towns, Karakum desert and large mosques.
The cavern appeared in the early 1970s after a Soviet drilling rig spudded an exploration well that hit a large concealed cave below the surface.
Exact records of what happened next are not available but the ground beneath the rig is believed to have collapsed into a wide crater, burying the rig but resulting in no casualties.
As the story goes, geologists then decided to ignite the gas in the crater, mistakenly believing that it would quickly burn away.
In 2010, Berdymukhamedov issued his first order to extinguish the crater.
However, that plan was soon buried somewhere in the long corridors of shiny white administrative buildings in Ashgabat, as tourists and even the president himself continued to flock to the infernal attraction.
Deputy Prime Minister Shakhym Abdrakhmanov has been charged with obtaining consultations from Turkmen scientists and also bringing in international experts to implement the president’s latest order, according to reports in Ashgabat.