President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov of Turkmenistan has ordered experts to find a way to finally put out the flames of the Gates of Hell tourist attraction in the country. Photo courtesy Tormod Sandtorv/Wikimedia/Flickr
Jan. 9 (UPI) -- President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov of Turkmenistan has ordered experts to find a way to finally put out the flames of the "Gates of Hell" tourist attraction in the country.
The crater, which has burned near the village of Darvaza in the massive Karakum Desert for decades, is believed to have formed as the result of a failed Soviet drilling operation in 1971 -- though its history and cause remain uncertain.
Geologists are believed to have set fire to the natural gas inside the crater hoping it would burn off and prevent it from poisoning people and animals who lived nearby, according to the news outlet Turkmenportal.
It has since become one of the authoritarian nation's largest tourist attractions, as people flock to see flames flickering inside the crater -- which measures 190 feet wide and 70 feet deep.
Berdimuhamedov told Deputy Prime Minister Shakhym Abdrakhmanov, who oversees the nation's oil and gas industry, to finally put an end to the flames citing health and environmental concerns, according to the state information agency TDH.
"Raw materials are lost, for the export of which one can make significant profits and use them to improve the well-being of our people," Berdimuhamedov said.
He ordered Abdrakhmanov to find "foreign consultants" to help extinguish the fire if necessary, a surprising move from the country's isolationist leader.
Berdimuhamedov first raised concerns about extinguishing the flames at the crater, also known as the Shining of Karakum, in 2010. Previous attempts to put the fire out have not been successful.
In 2020, the president made news for erecting a golden canine statue on a pedestal in the country's capital to honor his favorite dog breed, the Alabai, which he had previously written a book about.
The CIA World Factbook notes that Turkmenistan is a source and, to a much lesser degree, destination for adults and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking.