Coal Mine Fire Burning Out Of Control Near Pikeville, Kentucky

PIKEVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Crews have been working for the past three days to extinguish a fire burning in an underground coal mine in eastern Kentucky.

The Alliance Resource Partners mine outside Pikeville had to be evacuated and shut down because of the fire, the company said in a press release.

``All employees are accounted for and no injuries were incurred during the firefighting efforts or the evacuation,'' the company said.

The Oklahoma-based company said the Excel No. 3 mine outside Pikeville will be closed only temporarily until the fire can be extinguished. The mine is operated by MC Mining, a subsidiary of the Oklahoma company.

Employees discovered the fire late Saturday night. Holly McCoy, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing, said a state emergency response team helped fight the fire for seven hours but was unable to bring it under control.

She said the cause of the fire has not been determined.

``We may never know,'' she said. ``It depends on what they find when they're able to go back in.''

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration also has an emergency response team at the scene.

Mike Elswick, supervisor of the Office of Mine Safety and Licensing in Pikeville, said a mine rescue and firefighting team went in the mine shortly after 3 a.m. EST on Sunday. The state's other 10 mine-rescue teams where placed on standby.

Elswick said the decision was made to withdraw all personnel and seal the mine to cut off oxygen to the fire about 10 a.m. EST.

``All options were considered before making the call to seal the mine, and the right call was made at the right time,'' said Paris Charles, executive director of the state agency. ``In the most dangerous situations, our mine rescue teams respond, but it was becoming too dangerous to leave these men underground any longer.''

Crews have been pumping nitrogen and water into the mine through holes drilled from the surface to try to suffocate the fire.

Conditions inside the mine are being monitored by fiber optic camera and by gas-detecting instruments.

MC Mining employs approximately 250 workers. It was unclear how many of those are assigned to the Excel No. 3 mine, which produces low-sulfur coal from the Pond Creek coal seam.

The mine produced an average of 160,000 tons of coal per month in the past year.

Alliance Resource Partners operate mines in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Maryland.