WHITE HALL, W.Va. – Employees from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Abandoned Mine Lands and Reclamation (AML) and contractors with Bridgeport-based Big East LLC are continuing their efforts to extinguish an underground mine fire in Marion County.
Temperatures of the underground fire are hotter than 600 degrees in some areas, heating the rock to the point that workers walking across the excavated material have complained of melting boot soles. Early last week, the flames could be seen coming out of the ground. Workers were able, however, to keep the flames under control by dousing them with water until that section could be excavated and the fire extinguished. No injuries have been reported.
Eric Simpson, an engineer with AML, said if there is a stretch of nice weather – and barring any equipment malfunctions – the hope is to complete the project in the next 30 days.
The DEP also plans to work with the Division of Highways to improve traffic flow in the area. Traffic is down to one alternating lane of Route 250, and the DEP wants to ensure that popular businesses in the area such as Picker’s Paradise – which was recently voted Fairmont’s favorite antique store – experience as little disruption as possible.
The underground fire is believed to have originated in an abandoned mine known as Kuhn Mine No. 1, which is in the Pittsburgh coal seam. While the fire is suspected to have been burning for at least a decade, the smoke didn’t become widely visible until last fall, which prompted calls to DEP.
The agency began investigating in November. After determining the project was AML eligible, approval was obtained from the federal Office of Surface Mining to begin remediation. Exploratory drilling was conducted in December to determine the temperature range of the fire, which is an estimated 135 to 680 degrees, and its extent, which is believed to span an area that is about 300-feet long and 50-feet wide and is approximately 40-feet beneath the surface.
Following completion of a bidding process and approval of a remediation plan, tree clearing at the site began in February and the excavation of the coal seam commenced in March. The work involves removing and extinguishing the burning and smoldering material, then backfilling the area and sealing the seam with clay to prevent oxygen from fueling additional fires.
This project is one of many AML initiatives currently under way. The office completed more than 60 projects in the previous fiscal year totaling $32.1 million worth of work. AML was created in 1981 to protect public health, safety and property from past coal mining practices and enhance the environment through reclamation and restoration of land and water resources. In addition to mine fires, the office mitigates hazards such as abandoned mining related structures, highwalls, open and collapsed mine portals, coal refuse piles, acid mine drainage, surface and underground impoundments, landslides, subsidence and uncontrolled mine drainage.