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Centralia Mine Fire Control Failure

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Technology / EnviroMine
Environmental Technology for Mining

Editor: Shannon Shaw, RGC
Co-Editor: Sebastien Fortin, RGC
Sponsored by: Robertson GeoConsultants Inc.

by Malcolm Magnuson
221 Bentil Dr., Pleasant Hills
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15236
(412)655-7201 (tel)

The Centralia mine fire was not much different from many other anthracite mine fires which have been controlled and forgotten. The Centralia fire was caught in administrative changeover at the federal Bureau of Mines in 1979 which altered normal procedures.

A new control group, started by ignoring anyone who was familiar with designing and implementing fire control projects and proceeded to "think-up" fire control options for citizens to vote on. This was somewhat irresponsible. They should have followed the normal procedure of analyzing the situation and deciding what funds and equipment were available. They then should have told the residents and officials what they should do. The new group had complete contempt for the "State of the Art". Instead of building on it, they ignored it.

Slurry flushing is the only reasonable method of controlling an anthracite abandoned mine fire. This is why the federal anthracite division had done little else. The intelligent thing for the new group to do was to improve the flushing technique which had developed the use of massive slurry pumps, as well as a new technique known as the pneumatic injection of dry fly ash. Trying to dig out a fire 500 feet underground was ludicrous. By the time you dig that deep and expose the fire to air, it will propagate faster than you can dig.

It is obvious now that the pneumatically injected dry fly ash barrier, which was treated with contempt by the new group, stopped the fire's westward advance into Centralia (refer to Figure 1 below), and if the east barrier had been reinforced as the former chief had suggested, the fire could have been isolated. If the fly ash barriers had been combined with surface sealing, the fire could have been extinguished. Instead, the fire propagated west along the south outcrop (refer to Figure 1 below) and destroyed a section of Route 61 and severely affected the village of Byrnsdale.

Surface sealing has been the cheapest, yet effective, method of extinguishing an abandoned coal mine fire in the bituminous region. This method, by plowing the surface, eliminates the chimneys which ventilate the fire by drawing air into the fire area. Picture yourself sitting in front of a roaring fire in the fireplace when someone seals the chimney. You can imagine what happens to the roaring fire. No one has ever suggested that you need zero O2 to extinguish a fire. At Centralia, the experts even created vent holes into the mine. This was absurd! None of the mine shafts, drifts, tunnels or strip pits were closed - all in complete contempt for the proven surface sealing method.

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