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Mine Disasters in the United States


Consolidation Coal Company
Blacksville No. 1 Mine Fire

Blacksville, Monongalia County, West Virginia
July 22, 1972
No. Killed - 9

News Articles

Listen:  This Week in West Virginia History  
See also:   Blacksville No. 1 Shaft Explosion, Mar. 19, 1992


Preliminary Report

A mine fire occurred about 7:30 p.m., Saturday, July 22, 1972, along the No. 3 north mains track haulageway between the junctions of A-1 and A-2 sections.  At the time of the fire, 43 men were in the mine.  An acting shift foreman and four workmen were transporting a 1-JCM ripper-type continuous-mining machine, which was involved in the fire.  Two foremen and 27 other employees were doing miscellaneous work in other parts of the mine outby the origin of the fire.  A foreman and four workmen in the A-3 section were engaged in miscellaneous work inby the fire, and these nine employees remain entombed in the mine.

Except for the foreman and eight employees working inby the origin of the fire, all other workmen in the mine at the time of the occurrence escaped without incident via the service shaft portal.

Attempts made to control and extinguish the fire by direct attack were unsuccessful and after a minor explosion occurred in the vicinity of the fire at about 2:40 p.m., Monday, July 24, 1972, all employees engage in rescue and recovery operations had to be withdrawn from the mine.  Sealing of the entire mine on the surface was started at 10:30 p.m., Monday, July 24, 1972, and completed at 4:45 a.m., Tuesday, July 25, 1972.

General Information

The Blacksville No. 1 mine, which was opened July 28, 1968, is located 1.2 miles east of Blacksville, Monongalia County, West Virginia, off State Route T.  The mine is serviced by the Waynesburg-Southern Railroad.

A total of 320 men was employed; 302 worked underground, 3 shifts a day, 5 days a week, and produces an average of 4,700 tons of coal a day.  Production in 1971 was 924,674 tons of coal.  The mine is opened by three concrete-lined shafts, one single compartment and two double compartments, 650 to 800 feet in depth.

The volatile ratio of the coal in this mine is 0.46, indicating the coal dust is highly explosive.  The Pittsburgh coalbed also burns readily due to being a highvolatile coal.

A combination health and safety inspection of the entire mine was completed April 24, 1972.  The Blacksville No. 1 mine is on a hazardous spot inspection schedule; since the last complete inspection, a total of 22 spot inspections had been made in this mine.  The last two spot inspections were on July 19 and 20, 1972.  From the first inspection under the Act to date, the Bureau has issued 380 Notices of Violation and 19 Orders of Withdrawal.

Story of the Fire and Sealing Operations

Evidence of Activities and Story of Fire

Plans were made by management Wednesday, July 19, 1972, to move equipment from various parts of the mine to the new C-1 section off 5 north starting with the 12:01 a.m. shift, Saturday, July 22, 1972.  A shuttle car (TorKar) was to be moved from the B-1 mine car loading point, a 14 BU Joy loading machine from the 3 north haulageway near the junction of A-6 section, and a 1-JCM ripper-type continuous-mining machine from the A-3 coal-producing section.  Each piece of equipment was to be moved a distance of approximately 16,500 feet.

Four workmen, two of whom started working at noon, July 22, 1972, and two who worked overtime from the 8 a.m. shift were in the mine when 4 foremen and 35 workmen entered the mine at 4 p.m., Saturday, July 22, 1972.  Justin Beach, Jr., sections foreman, and four workmen were instructed to go to the A-2 longwall section and four workmen were assigned to gather the supplies and materials left after the removal of the continuous-mining machine in the A-3 section.  Clifford Styles, acting shift foreman, Frank Strakal and Glen Cale, locomotive operators, Anthony Fata, roof bolter, and Hervert Halpenny, continuous-mining-machine operator, were to continue to transport the miner from 3 north mains to the new C-1 section.  The remaining 27 workmen under the supervision of two foremen were assigned miscellaneous repair and construction work in other parts of the mine.

There are conflicting statements concerning who actually made the 4 p.m. shift work assignments.  The general mine foreman, Herman Liddle, state that he outline the work to be performed, but that Styles knew employees were not to work in air currents passing over equipment being transported along haulageways.  Styles stated that he had not received instructions concerning the working of men in air currents passing over equipment being moved along haulageways and that Liddle assigned crews to perform work in the A-2 and A-3 sections.

Movement of the continuous-mining machine progressed very slowly because of the scant vertical clearance along the 3 north mains track haulageway.  In the restricted areas, the insulation on top of the continuous-mining machine was moved when contact was made with the trolley and trolley feeder wires and roof.  According to sworn statements, after numerous such incidents and when the continuous-mining machine had been transported only 1,300 feet, by around 7:20 p.m., it became necessary to stop and readjust the insulating material on the machine.  After this readjustment, the carrier was moved about a foot when Cale, who was on the inby side of the miner, saw a flash of fire in the vinicity of the continuous-mining machine.  He immediately obtained the 20-pound fire extinguisher from his locomotive and expended the contents on the fire which had little effect on the flame.  Meanwhile, Strakal called Paul Duskey, dispatcher, on the trolley phone and told him that the continuous-mining machine was on fire; however, he did not converse with him and was not sure the dispatcher head him.  An attempt was made to use the inby 150-pound fire extinguisher on the fire from the inby side, but dense smoke forced the two men to retreat through a parallel haulage entry to reach the outby side of the continuous mining machine.  According to statements made by members of the crew moving the continuous-mining machine, the machine was very quickly engulfed in flame and smoke, which made direct means of firefighting extremely difficult.

About 8 p.m., Styles called the dispatcher and told him to inform Justin Beach, Jr. that there would be some smoke entering the A-2 section, but not to be alarmed.  Duskey relayed this message to Beach and instructed him to remain near the telephone, but he did not inform Beach as to the location of the fire or from where the smoke would be coming.  A few minutes later, Beach called the dispatcher and said, "Paul, the smoke is getting worse"; the dispatcher told him to "get the hell out."  He again did not give Beach any details concerning the fire nor did he ask him which way he intended to travel.  While Duskey was attempting to contact all men in the mine by trolley phone, Jerry Martin, construction foreman, who on instructions from the dispatcher had delivered and applied a fire extinguisher to the fire area, returned to a telephone and immediately contacted Kenneth Haines, general inside laborer, in the A-3 sections and asked him if there was any smoke on the section.  When Haines said there was no smoke, Martin instructed him to assemble all the workmen in the sections, have each man put on a self-rescuer, and immediately leave the section by way of the return escapeway.

White, who was enroute to the fire area with the water car, met Styles and his crew of four men traveling to the shaft bottom because the fire was out of control; however, they all returned with White to the fire area.  In his haste to get the water car to the fire, White inadvertently allowed his locomotive and the water car to drift inby the I.T.E. circuit breaker and trolley wire dead block, resulting in power not being available at the site of the water car to operate the water car pumps.  Accordingly, due to this factor and the uncertainty of other conditions in the fire area, Styles and White decided that the fire was out of control, and along with the other men present, retreated to the surface, arriving about 8:45 p.m., July 22, 1972.

Dallas Gribble and Jerry Martin traveled by personnel carrier to the new C-1 section where four men, who were unaware of the fire and could not be contacted, were working.  They were then transported to the shaft bottom, arriving about 8:50 p.m., July 22, 1972; at this time all men, except those in A-2 and A-3 sections, were out of the mine.

The time at which the fire started was not definitely determined.  Most of the employees stated that due to the excitement connected with the fire they did not notice the time at which the fire actually started.  Based upon the sworn statements received in connection with activities prior to and after the fire, it was apparent that the fire started around 7:30 p.m., if not earlier, on July 22, 1972.

According to the statements received, the fire burned for at least 45 minutes before smoke was detected on the A-2 section, and at least 60 minutes after the fire started, smoke had not been detected on the A-3 section.  Based upon the best information available at the present time obtained during the course of the Bureau's preliminary investigation, it seems to be a reasonable conclusion that the crews working in the A-2 and A-3 sections at the time of the fire could have escaped to safe areas through established escapeways if they had received timely and adequate instructions.  From all indications, the fire had burned to the point where the integrity of the escapeway system had been destroyed before the workmen inby the fire area were told to leave their respective sections.

Rescue and Recovery Operations

Based upon the information available at this time obtained during the course of the Bureau's preliminary investigation, it is apparent that firefighting efforts up to this time (9 p.m.) had been conducted in an unplanned and unorganized manner.  The mine fire had been abandoned around 8:30 p.m. and no attempts were made to obtain water from the high-pressure waterline in the adjacent belt entry or to cut the trolley wire outby the fire so that power could be supplied to available water cars.  From all indications, the operator's seemingly poor attempts to bring the fire under control were major contributing factors to the seriousness of this mine fire.

Information based upon statements received during the course of the Bureau's preliminary investigation indicates preparations for rescue operations in connection with the employees in the A-2 and A-3 sections were not adequate.  The State of West Virginia Coal Mine Laws require that a backup team of equal strength, stationed at each fresh-air base, shall be provided for each rescue or recovery team performing work with breathing apparatus.  This, in effect, means that at least two rescue teams are required before rescue attempts are initiated.  Indications are that more emphasis could have been placed upon obtaining mine rescue teams at an earlier time on July 33, 1972.  The mine fire started apparently, at the latest, around 7:30 p.m., but it was not until 12:40 a.m. on July 23, 1972, that two mine rescue teams were available for rescue attempts.

The Mine Emergency Operations Group (MEO) was notified of the fire and the missing miners at 5 a.m., July 23, 1972.  The mine emergency operation notification plan was implemented and the support center in Baltimore, Maryland, began 24-hour operations.  The seismic van and equipment and the logistic trailer stationed at Charleston, West Virginia, were requested for the Blacksville No. 1 mine.

One area at a time was explored by the mine rescue team using self-contained oxygen-breathing apparatus.  While mine rescue teams wearing oxygen-breathing apparatus were exploring areas of the of the mine, other fully equipped mine rescue teams were stationed at the freshair bases as well as on the surface.  Other mine rescue teams operated the three foam-generating machines and assisted in other firefighting operations.  The entrapped men were not located and there was no indication that they had been in any of the areas explored.

Several roof falls had occurred in the fire area which restricted the flow of air over the fire, and the amount of methane in the left and right return airways outby the fire area continued to increase.  These circumstances indicated danger of an explosion and prompted the representatives from the four agencies to direct the mine rescue crews and others return to the surface.  While the men were leaving the area, an explosion occurred at 2:42 p.m., Monday, July 24, 1972.  At this time, the fan charts indicated a pressure drop of 1.5 inches.  All men, except for nine men trapped inby the fire area, were safely evacuated from the mine by 3 p.m., July 24, 1972.  The occurrence of the explosion, the increase of methane in the mine atmosphere in the fire area, and the possibility of hydrogen gas being generated by the fire made it unsafe to allow rescue attempts to be continued underground.

Final Report Of Major Coal Mine

Fire Disaster and Recovery Operations

Blacksville No. 1 Mine
Consolidated Coal Company
Blacksville Operations
July 22, 1972

This report supplements and concludes the preliminary report of a mine fire disaster that occurred on July 22, 1972, in the Blacksville No. 1 Mine, Consolidation Coal Company, West Virginia.  The name of the company has since been changed to Blacksville No. 1 Mine, Blacksville Operations, Consolidation Coal Company.

A mine fire occurred about 7:30 p.m., Saturday, July 22, 1972, along the 3 North Main track haulageway, between the junctions of the A-1 and A-2 sections.  The fire started when a continuous mining machine being transported along the 3 North Main track haulageway contacted the energized trolley and/or trolley feeder wires.  At the time of the occurrence, 8 men were in the mine.  Except for a foreman and eight employees working inby the fire area, all workmen in the mine escaped without incident via the service shaft portal.

Attempts to control and extinguish the fire were unsuccessful and the mine was sealed from the surface.  The foreman and eight workmen engaged in miscellaneous duties inby the fire were entombed in the mine.

The mine was reopened January 3, 1973, and the bodies of the nine victims recovered.  However, before the fire area could be totally recovered, the fire rekindled and the area had to be resealed.

The Mining Enforcement and Safety Administration, now the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), was informed by Adley E. Spottee, Vice President, Blacksville Operations, that the company does not plan to open and recover the sealed area at the present time.  The area was subjected to extreme head and ignitions while sealed from July 25, 1972, until January 2, 1973, and massive roof falls have occurred.

Methane

The Blacksville No. 1 mine was liberating approximately 6,125,000 cubic feet of methane in a 24 hour period at the time of the fire.  Methane was not a factor in the cause of the fire; however, when the ventilation in 3 north was disrupted by falls of roof and disloaded stoppings, as a result of the fire, the methane build up inby and subsequent explosion was the main factor in the decision by the four participating agencies to seal the mine on the surface on July 24, 1972.

Electricity

The fire resulted when a continuous mining machine being transported on an equipment carrier along the 3 north track haulageway contacted the energized trolley and/or trolley feeder wire.  The resulting arcing ignited the oil and other combustible material on the continuous mining machine or equipment carrier.  It appears that a high-resistance low-current ground fault occurred when the machine contacted the energized wire.  Under such a condition there would not have been a sufficient current demand to open the circuit breaker and disconnect power to the 3 north trolley system.  It is conceivable that two or three minutes elapsed before the current demand exceeded the 3,000 amperes necessary to operate the circuit breaker.  Such a ground fault could generate sufficient heat to ignite any hydraulic oil on the machine.

Firefighting Facilities

A complete description of the mine firefighting facilities is listed in the preliminary report.  The facilities appeared adequate; however, accord to statements from workmen, there was some confusion when the water cars were brought to the fire scene and water was not used on the fire.  Attempts to extinguish the blaze using a dry chemical extinguisher were unsuccessful.

Escapeways

The escapeways should have been adequate to permit persons to escape from the A-2 and A-3 sections had the vacated the sections immediately when the fire occurred.  From all indications, because of the time lapse between the time the fire started and the time the men attempted to leave the section, the integrity of the escape system had been destroyed by the fire or during attempted firefighting procedures.

Coal and Coal Dust

The high-volatile Pittsburgh coalbed ignites easily when subjected to head or flame.  Although the coalbed was not a factor in the starting of the fire, the easily ignited coal and coal roof contributed to the intensity of the fire.  The mine was well rock-dusted and coal spillages were not a factor in the fire.

Extent of Fire

The 3 north area had not been totally recovered before it became necessary to reseal the area.  However, the area affected by fire and flames, as evidenced by the burned condition of bodies and materials, was determined.  The only area evidencing effects from fire and flame, other than the area immediately surrounding the origin of the fire, was in the A-2 section.

During the recovery operations on Monday, July 24, 1972, the methane content of the air in the return airways outby the fire continued to increase, indicating a danger from an explosion and prompted the representatives of the four participating agencies to direct the mine rescue teams and others to return to the surface.  While the men were leaving the fire area, an explosion occurred at 2:42p.m.  During recovery operations of January 1973, it was observed that the explosion occurred in the 3 north mains, inby the fire area, and the forces from the explosion destroyed all ventilation controls.  The area was covered by soot.

Findings: Summary of Evidence

The findings are derived from the following sources: conditions observed in the mine by MESA (MSHA) personnel during the reopening, recovery and resealing operations; and from the preliminary report on the mine fire.  After analysis of all available evidence, MSHA investigators summarize their findings below.
  • The foreman and four workmen in the A-2 section and the four men in the A-3 section were contacted by telephone about 8:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., respectively.  Reportedly there was no smoke on either section at that time.

  • The foreman on the A-2 section telephone the dispatcher about 8:15 p.m. and informed him that smoke was present on the section.

  • According to statements received, the fire burned for at least 45 minutes before smoke was detected on the A-2 section, and at least 60 minutes after the fire started, smoke had not been detected on the A-3 section.

  • The foreman and workmen in the A-2 section and the four workmen in the A-3 section were approximately 2,200 feet and 3,600 feet inby the origin of the fire, respectively.  There were at least two separate and distinct travelable passageways maintained to insure passage at all times of any persons, including disabled persons and were designated as escapeways.  At least on of the escapeways in each section was ventilated with intake air to outby the origin of the fire.

  • There should have been sufficient time for persons in A-2 and A-3 sections to escape had they been instructed to do so immediately when the fire started.

  • On July 24, 1972, during firefighting and recovery attempts, and after several roof falls had occurred in the fire area, restricting the flow of air in the fire area, the methane content in the return air just outby the fire continued to increase.  A danger from a mine explosion was developing and all persons were directed to return to the surface.

  • An explosion occurred about 2:45 p.m. while the men were leaving the mine.

  • Representatives of Consolidation Coal Company United Mine Workers of America, West Virginia Department of Mines and the Bureau of Mines (MSHA) decided that the mine had to be sealed on the surface to reduce the exposure of workers to possible explosions.

  • The mine was sealed July 25, 1972, and remained sealed until January 2, 1973, when it was determined conditions were suitable for unsealing and reentry.

  • The bodies of the nine victims were recovered January 3 and 4, 1973.  Before the area could be totally recovered, the fire rekindled and the fire area had to be resealed.

  • On January 26, 1973, a withdrawal order Form 104(a) was issued to prevent removal of the seals in 1 east and 3 north without prior approval of the United States Bureau of Mines.

  • By letter dated July 9, 1976, the President of the Blacksville Division informed the District Manager, District 3, Morgantown, West Virginia, that the Company had no intention of re-opening the sealed fire area in the Blacksville No. 1 Mine, thus precluding the possibility of recovery and further investigation in the fire area.
Conclusion

No additional information was obtained to alter the conclusion as stated in the preliminary report.  The fire occurred when a 1- JCM ripper-type continuous mining machine being transported in the mine, on a lowboy equipment carrier pulled by a trolley locomotive, came in contact with an energized trolley and/or trolley feeder wires.


News Articles

Rescue Workers Drill Toward Trapped Nine
Charleston Daily Mail, West Virginia
July 24, 1972

Blacksville, W. Va. (AP) -- Rescue workers today neared completion of a shaft they were drilling into a burning coal mine where nine men were trapped, but hope was diminishing that they would be found alive.

"We have found nothing thus far ... to give us any encouragement," said Hazlett Corchran, a spokesman for Consolidated Coal Co., owner of the mine.

The 5-inch bore hole was at a site about a mile and a quarter from the fire, at a spot where the trapped men might have sought refuge.

Cochran said the hole "will permit us to determine air quality ... and tell us whether or not the air is capable of sustaining life."

Also, microphones will be dropped into the hole.  In addition, geologists spread a network of geophones around the area of the bore hole.  These are able to detect sounds or vibrations from deep within the earth, but at mid-morning had picked up no sounds.

There has been no word from the nine men since shortly after the fire erupted Saturday evening.  And, officials of the Consolidated Coal Co.'s Blacksville No. 1 mine said chances the men would be found alive were "quite dim."

"I don't think I am stating anything but a fact, " John Corcoran, Consol president, said.  He called the situation a "tragedy."

The bore hole was being drilled in an attempt to reach the men or possibly communicate with them.  Failing that, officials hoped to learn something about conditions in the mine 50 feet below the rolling hills of this West Virginia - Pennsylvania border community.

An official of the U.S. Bureau of Mines said temperatures in the immediate area of the fire probably were between 2,500 and 3,000 degrees fahrenheit.

Corcoran said at a news conference he felt conditions for rescuing the trapped miners were "not favorable."

Rescue efforts have been hampered by the fire which continues to burn in the soft coal veins that underlie the area.

Efforts to put the fire out with foam have been stymied because workers were unable to get behind the fire.

The fire was ignited Saturday evening when a heavy piece of mining machinery being relocated in the mine corridor about a mile from the lone elevator shaft hit a live electrical wire.

The sparks apparently ignited a quantity of hydraulic fluid in the mining machine.  Then, the flames reportedly spread to the coal itself.

Of the 40 men then performing routine maintenance duties in the four-mile mine, officials said 31 reached the surface safely in a matter of minutes.

The fire had been localized Sunday night in an area about 400 square feet in size and less than a mile from the mine entrance, Consol officials said.

W. A. Park of the Bureau of Mines said success in putting out similar fires in the past, even with foam, had been "not good."

Corcoran told news media representatives, some members of the families of the nine missing men were maintaining a vigil around the entrance to the mine.

Other relatives, he said, had returned to their homes with assurances they would be notified of any developments.

Officials said more than 100 rescue workers, divided into 14 teams, were involved in the search.

"There is always hope," Leonard Pnakovich, vice president and spokesman for the United Mine Workers of America, said.

"Men have been brought out alive several days after such incidents," he told reporters.  But his optimism was cautious.

Pnakovich placed the blame for the fire squarely with the company.  He accused Consol of being negligent in failing to enforce a state mining law requiring evacuation of miners from an area where heavy machinery is being moved.

Corcoran answered:
"There is a legal requirement that workmen do not go in by the air currents where a machine is being moved.  It would appear that on this particular occasion some of the men were where the machine was being moved.  Why they were there, we don't know."
Only a handful of men were required to move the mining machinery, and under the state law the other miners apparently should not have been in the area.

Pnakovich accused Consol officials of negligence.

"It's a stupid thing ... idiotic," he said.

He said legal action against Consol, which owns the Farmington No. 9 mine where 78 men lost their lives in 1968, might be taken.

Corcoran described the objective of the rescue operation as two-fold -- "find the men and put out the fire." He was flanked at the news conference by officials of the Bureau of Mines, the state Department of Mines and the UMW and other company officials.

The conference punctuated an almost total news blackout that had been in effect since early Sunday morning.  Roads leading to the mine site were barricaded by police.

Earlier reports said the trapped miners had made contact with the surface by telephone about 20 minutes after the fire broke out.  "They were told to head for a ventilation shaft.  They haven't been heard from since," a company spokesman said.


Nine Trapped Miners Named
Charleston Daily Mail, West Virginia
July 24, 1972

Blacksville, W. Va. (AP) -- Consolidated Coal Co. Sunday released the names of nine men trapped by a fire deep inside its Blacksville No. 1 mine.

The men were identified as:
  • Terrance Stoneking, 29, of Mount Morris, Pa.
  • Frederick Phillips, 42, of Mount Morris, Pa.
  • Justin A. Beach, Jr., 23, of Morgantown
  • Conrad J. Belt, 34, of Morgantown
  • Billy Murray, 37, of Morgantown
  • Roy Sisler, 24, of Morgantown
  • Roy Dalton, 42, of Morgantown
  • Kenneth Haynes, 21, of Morgantown
  • Robert Tressler, 32, of Morgantown
Officials of the firm said Beach was foreman of a crew which was "cribbing," the process of shoring up the walls of the room they were working in, when the blaze erupted Saturday night.  There were five men in his crew.

The other four men were reported in another chamber of the mine moving some equipment.


Mine Sealed Over Victims
The Daily Register, Burlington, North Carolina
July 25, 1972

Blacksville, W. Va. (UPI) -- Authorities abandoned efforts Monday to rescue nine men trapped more than a mile from the surface of a burning coal mine and sealed the mine with the victims entombed inside.

"There is no possibility of continuing the rescue operations," John Corcoran, president of Consolidated Coal Co. told a hastily called news conference.  "We are currently in the process of sealing the mine."

With sweat pouring from his forehead, Corcoran told the miners' families that after an explosion in the area of the fire Monday afternoon, officials had "no alternative" but to seal the mine located in this northern West Virginia community of 211 residents.  The families then returned to their homes.

"They've been extremely patient, very understanding," Corcoran said later.  "It's been tremendous the way they have been taking hold of themselves."

In November, 1968, Corcoran also had to inform the families of 78 miners who were killed in the explosion and fire at the Farmington mine, about 20 miles south of here.  The bodies of 56 miners still remain entombed at Farmington.

Corcoran said a "minor explosion" triggered by highly volatile methane gas occurred about 2:42 p.m. EDT in the Blacksville mine in the area where the fire had been confined by specially trained crews using foam.  He said about 50 rescue workers were inside the mine when the explosion occurred but that all escaped without injury.

"The explosion took place after methane readings in the fire area began to climb.  We immediately began taking out the rescue teams."

Corcoran assured the grieving families at Blacksville that rescue workers would continue drilling a five-inch hole into a tunnel area where officials felt four of the nine miners may have sought refuge to escape the smoke and fumes from the fire.

"We will continue drilling the hole, but we know it will only tell us what we already know," Corcoran said.

By late Monday the hole had been drilled to within 70 feet of the tunnel to a depth of about 660 feet.  When the hole penetrates the tunnel instruments will be used to check air quality and microphones used to check for signs of life.

Just minutes after Corcoran's announcement, crews began the task of sealing the mine, one of Consolidation Coal's most modern which had opened just four years ago.



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