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 camp nearby, and started drilling operations to assess the quantity of oil available at the site. When they instead found gas, the ground beneath the drilling rig and camp collapsed into a wide crater and disappeared.
Expecting dangerous releases of poisonous gases from the cavern into the nearby towns, the engineers saw it as best to burn the gas off. The gas was estimated to burn out within a few weeks, but it has instead continued to burn for more than four decades after it was set on fire.