I have been doing some research in regard to the Coal Seam Fire of 2002. The more I study the situation the more I find it fascinating. I have also been perplexed by the thoughts of how a fire burning down in the earth somehow came to the surface and started a major and devastating forest fire. After three recent trips to the area I have come away with the feeling that the fire could have started from hot or burning gases from the seam, but I am still not fully convinced that was the case. And I have come up with more questions than answers.
My most important question at this time is: What is the composition of the steady stream of gases still coming from the ground at the eastern end of the seam? Are the nearly clear gases mostly methane/natural gases? Could they become explosive? Could they be ignited by lightning? There are considerable areas of dry grass nearby.
There are steel, capped pipes at various points near the seam. What is their purpose, and has anyone checked them lately? (They are somewhat rust covered.) Are they to check temperatures and/or gas emissions?
Supposedly, the fire started on the western part of the coal seam ” about two miles from I-70 up the South Canyon road and on the west (right-hand) side. However, to me it doesn’t seem clear that the fire started there. Were there witnesses to the start of the fire? Were residents and landfill operators interviewed? What about the prevailing winds? Was it likely that the fire backed up the canyon as well as spread downward toward Glenwood?
One of the local Bureau of Land Management officials loaned me a very thick book about the fire. It contains many proposals about the cleanup and rehabilitation of the burned areas, lots of maps and all kinds of numbers and charts. However, it is not clear what was completed and what the final costs were.
One disturbing item to me is the fact that hundreds of dollars in new pipes have been left in a pile along the western bulldozed road to the seam. Taxpayer dollars NOT at work? The pipes intended use? It would be interesting to see what the Post Independent could find about what was done and what the costs were for the various aspects of rehabilitation and for prevention against future problems.
The bulldozed roads lead me to these questions: Were attempts made to extinguish the fires below ground? Were there any stories written about these efforts? What are the details? How confident are the U.S. Forest Service, the BLM and the city of Glenwood that things are under control? How many Glenwoodites are aware that much of the coal seam in this area is owned by the city (2,135 acres)? Could these gases be tapped for residential or business use?
Although the fire happened more than two years ago, I think the situation warrants new discussions and examinations. It seems to me that there is a potential (slight?) for a new fire to erupt. In any case, my curiosity (and maybe that of a few readers) is whetted, and I would appreciate hearing from other persons knowledgeable about the fire, its origins and the kinds of gases being emitted at the seam.
Stirling “Buzz” Cooper is a Glenwood Springs resident.
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