DNR to drill into coal seam
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Wisps of fog and smoke mysteriously rise from seemingly ordinary mountainsides in public lands around the city. The cause? Many were from mine blasts that occurred as far back as the 1800s along the coal-rich Hogback formation, while some could have been caused by lightning or even wildfires. But even with 21st century technology, the means of extinguishing these fires remains an enigma for area geologists and fire officials.That’s why more than a year after the Coal Seam Fire leapt from the ground in South Canyon, the Glenwood Springs Fire Department and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources are seeking ways to snuff out the seething subterranean sparks that stipple the landscape. “I just showed the site to potential drilling contractors yesterday,” Division of Minerals and Geology project manager Steve Renner said Wednesday.Renner’s agency is looking to hire a company to drill on the west side of South Canyon to investigate the underground fire there, near where the Coal Seam Fire started. “The bottom line is trying to find out what was mined and what was not and what’s on fire and what’s not,” Renner said. The project is slated to run from Nov. 10 through about Christmas, he said. “They’ll drill 10 to 20 holes. All we want to do is test the heat,” he said. “Then the second step is possibly putting something down there.”That second step, aimed at extinguishing the smoldering coal, wouldn’t happen during this part of the project.
Although the underground fire at South Canyon has been the focus of increased attention since it sparked the 2002 conflagration, the Glenwood Springs Fire Department has recently begun monitoring another active area.The long-defunct mines near Sunlight Mountain Resort have shown evidence that an underground fire – possibly started in the 1897 explosion at the Sunshine Mine that killed 13 people – is still flaring. City planner Mike Pelletier, whose job entails mapping the area for the city’s GPS mapping program – was among several people to take a walk up to the old mines in August to investigate reports of smoke. The Upper Colorado Interagency Fire Center in Rifle responded as well.”They brought in a chopper, and they decided it was steam coming out of the ground,” Pelletier said. To get an idea of why steam was emanating from the ground, Pelletier took a map of the historic mines in the area and laid it over an aerial photo of the area.”When I pulled that map up, there was one section of the map that said `coal burned,'” he said. “According to Steve (Renner), it’s either burning coal from prehistoric times or it could have been caused by miners.”Both mines – the Sunshine Mine and the Pocohontas Mine – are now located on the Argonaut Farms property. Glenwood Springs fire protection analyst Ron Biggers said the fire department will keep tabs on the area, but that’s about it. “We spent the good part of the afternoon taking temperatures,” he said. The temperatures at some specific surface areas ranged from 300 to 450 degrees. But because there are already natural fire breaks and water sources nearby, and because clearing the area could result in more flammable vegetation taking hold, the department plans to leave the area alone. “Firewise, we thought, what can we do to make this area little more proactive?” Biggers said. One idea he and some others came up with was to improve an existing road and to get permission to use the nearby water sources in case a fire happens to ignite. “The ranch manager up there and the owners of Argonaut Farms are interested in how they can help,” Biggers said. “And at least we’re starting to map those things and know they’re around.”Contact Greg Mass: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
Local Coal mine disasters since records were kept in 1884:February 18, 1896, Vulcan Mine, Garfield County, A.T.&S.F. Coal Co., Explosion of gas and dust ignited by firing shot in the chute, 49 killed. September 3, 1897, Sunshine Mine, Garfield County, Colorado Fuel & Iron Co., explosion of gas and dust ignited by a lamp, 12 killed.December 16, 1913, Vulcan Mine, Garfield County, Coryell Mine Leasing, explosion of dust powder caused by an open light, 37 killed. December 28, 1965, Dutch Creek Mine, Pitkin County, Mid-Continent Coal Co., explosion of gas, 9 killed. April 15, 1981, Dutch Creek No. 1 Mine, Pitkin County, Mid-Continent Coal Co., 15 killed. Information provided by the U.S. Mine Rescue Association
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