EIGHTY-FOUR, Pa. (AP) - A fire at a Pennsylvania coal mine
forced the evacuation of dozens of miners and was expected to keep
the mine closed for days as crews decide how to battle the blaze, a
mine official said early Tuesday.
The fire at the 84 Mine was discovered about 9:30 a.m. Monday
when carbon monoxide detectors sounded, Consol Energy Inc.
spokesman Tom Hoffman said. Consol owns the Washington County mine
about 25 miles south of Pittsburgh.
Eighty-four miners were evacuated without incident and no
injuries were reported. The union mine employs about 500.
Officials don't know how the fire started, but said it was
burning in a 50- to 100-foot area about 600 feet underground in a
restricted area where grids of tunnels used to move miners and
machinery intersect. Employees first spotted flames in a tunnel
with a conveyor belt that is used to remove coal from the longwall
mining operation, Hoffman said.
"Because of all these underground detectors, we were able to
get organized before the fire spread very far," Hoffman said.
Officials said they have isolated the fire within a 1,000-foot
corridor about 16 feet wide and 8 feet high, although the fire's
exact size is difficult to determine because of poor visibility
from smoke and steam, Hoffman said early Tuesday.
The mine encompasses an area about 10 square miles in
southeastern Washington County, but at any one time only about two
miles of longwall corridors are active, Hoffman said.
Mine fires are dangerous because mined coal naturally emits
flammable and potentially explosive methane gas, although methane
levels were still considered safe early Tuesday, Hoffman said.
Consol officials knew of no previous fires at the mine. The last
Consol mine fire burned for weeks in 1999 near Fairview, W.Va., at
the Loveridge No. 22 Mine and caused a methane explosion. That mine
remained closed for two years.
Consol was using about 10 mine rescue teams consisting of 10 men
each from area mines, as well as those in West Virginia, Virginia
and Kentucky to battle the fire.
Those specially trained and equipped crews were trying to reduce
the size of the fire by dousing it with water hoses, an effort
expected to continue overnight. If that doesn't appear to be
working, the crews will erect barriers to seal off the 1,000-foot
channel where the fire is located, and it will be filled with
water.
That decision was expected to be made later Tuesday morning. If
the tunnel must be sealed, that alone will take about two days,
Hoffman said.
The mine will remain closed until the fire is extinguished and
investigators determine the cause of the fire, Hoffman said.
Officials with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental
Protection and the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration
continued to monitor the blaze early Tuesday, DEP spokeswoman Betsy
Mallison said.
DEP officials were monitoring smoke and gas emissions from the
mine and there was no immediate public health risk late Monday,
Mallison said. Investigators from the federal Occupational Safety
and Health Administration and the U.S. Department of Labor were
also present.
Windy, snowy conditions were helping to dissipate any methane
gas or smoke that might otherwise accumulate if the air were
stagnant, Mallison said.
"Those (rescue crews) are underground now trying to assess the
situation and attack it from two different angles," Mallison said.
Officials above ground can also determine if the fire is being
extinguished, based on the gases being emitted. High carbon
monoxide and low hydrogen readings mean the fire is still burning,
while low carbon monoxide and high hydrogen readings indicate it is
out. Hoffman said carbon monoxide readings early Tuesday indicated
the fire wasn't spreading, but it wasn't getting smaller either.
How much damage has occurred, and whether it will cause the mine
to be closed for an extended period, wasn't immediately clear. The
mine roof above the fire has collapsed, but officials didn't know
if that may have caused the fire or resulted from it.
"A coal seam will burn for a long, long time. We've got
equipment underground, the infrastructure of all the tunnels, the
cabling, the wires, all those things that support the mine, they
become damaged," Hoffman said. "If the damage becomes too
extensive, you lose the mine."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)