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Mine Disasters in the United States


Decatur Coal Company
Decatur No. 1 Mine Fire

Decatur, Macon County, Illinois
January 16, 1905
No. Killed 6

Description:  Shortly after noon, a fire broke out which resulted in the death of six men.  The fire was discovered in the mule stable and undoubtedly was caused by sparks from a pipe or a partially consumed cigarette.  At the time the fire was discovered, about 60 men were in the mine, but by the prompt action of the mine manager in sending runners to give warning, all escaped but the six unfortunate referred to above.  The alarm was immediately sent to the city fire department, which responded promptly, but, owing to the location of the fire so far underground, considerable time was consumed in preparing to reach it.  By hard work, the fire was brought under control, several men were rescued and all the bodies recovered.


(From the 1905 Illinois Annual Coal Report)

January 16, 1905, shortly after noon, a fire broke out in mine No. 1 of the Decatur Coal Co.. Decatur, Macon County, which resulted in the death of six men as follows:
  • August Yagusch, miner, aged 51 years
  • Charles Lachinski, driver, aged 35 years
  • Emil Knorr, miner aged 17 years
  • William Fagan, driver, aged 20 years
  • William Gollan, miner, aged 50 years
  • Paul Gollan, miner, aged 17 years
And endangering the lives of seven others, namely:
  • John Dunn
  • Martin Cullen
  • Fred Knorr
  • William Kastner
  • Thomas Fagan
  • John Pride
  • and August Rex
all of whom were cut off from escape by the fire: all of the other men working in the mine at the time, about sixty, escaped safely out of the workings.

The fire was discovered in the first north entry in the stable used to feed the mules, the stable being located about 2,100 feet from the bottom of the hoisting shaft.

The mule feeder, Mr. Williams, went into that part of the mine about 1:50 o'clock p.m. and finding the fire attempted to extinguish it, but failing to do so, gave the alarm; Thomas Clark, mine manager, came to Williams' assistance and realizing the danger he at once sent runners around the mine to warn the men, and notify them to get out as soon as possible: all of the men escaped excepting those already named.

On the first discovery of the fire, mine manager Clark also sent an alarm to the city fire department, which responded promptly, but, owing to the location of the fire so far underground, considerable time was consumed in preparing to get to the fire.  A line of hose was connected to the nearest hydrant and carried to the shaft, a distance of seven hundred feet, and six hundred feet down the shaft, then inside twenty-one hundred feet to the fire, a total distance of thirty-four hundred feet.

After several breaks in the hose, from the pressure due to the depth of the shaft in addition to the pressure from the pumps, the water was thrown on to the fire, and bringing the flames practically under control about six o'oclock p.m.  At this time John Dunn, Martin Cullen, Fred Knorr.  William Castner and Thomas Fagen, who were among the missing, came out of the first east entry and reported that the body of Lachinski was lying a few feet back in the entry, or about 50 feet from the fire; the body was at once secured and removed to the surface.

About three o'clock the next morning John Pride another of the missing men came out at the main east entry and reported that August Rex was in room No. 43 on the first south entry, off of the first east and that he was still alive; a rescuing party went to the place indicated and brought Rex out, who was in a very bad condition, but was finally resuscitated and taken to the hospital.  It is supposed that he will fully recover.

The bodies of William Gollan and Emil Knorr were found at the same place where Rex was found.  This point is about twenty-seven hundred feet from the fire; search was then made for the other missing men, and the body of August Yagusch was found on the first east entry, about nineteen hundred feet from the fire: the bodies of William Fagan and Paul Gollan were not discovered until about 10:00 o'clock a.m. January 17, for the reason that both men had gotten off of the open road and into the third east entry which had been abandoned: when these bodies were found, they were only about two hundred and fifty feet from where the fire was first located.  William Crankshaw was in the mine at this time and assisted in the recovery of these two bodies.

William Fagan and Charles Lachiniski were drivers and had been sent to warn the men, as they were both familiar with the mine, they would no doubt have gotten out safely if they had followed the face of the workings, but from the location of their bodies when found, they evidently had tried to get out on the roads on which they hauled coal, the one on the first north entry and the other on the first east were both cut off by the fire, as it was located at the intersection of these two entries.

The fire was undoubtedly caused by sparks from a pipe or a partially consumed cigarette, probably the latter, as the drivers were said to be addicted to the use of cigarettes.  The damage to the mine is only trifling, consisting of the burning of the timbers in the stables and six mules which were suffocated by the smoke.

Since this report was submitted the following account, taken from the "Labor World," published at Decatur, in its issue of Oct. 27, 1905, gives in detail the settlements made by the company in consequence of the foregoing deaths.
"All of the cases against the Decatur Coal Company, which resulted from the disaster in the mine last winter, Jan. 16, 1905, have been settled.  Five cases were settled for $13,500.  The Fagan case was settled through the administrator appointed by the county court a few days since, $2,500 being paid the family.  The father of Fagan was for many years pit boss in the mine and he is now stricken and helpless and more was given the Fagan family than the other families, where an unmarried man was killed.

Several days ago the case for damages for the death of Emil Knorr was tried.  The jury disagreed as to the amount of damages, but it was known that all were in favor of giving damages.

Wednesday the cases of Bertha Lachiniski, as administratrix of the estate of Charles Lachiniski, came up.  The trial was started but before it was finished a compromise was reached in this, and in all other cases.  In each judgment was entered formerly in court and the jury was instructed to return a verdict which was done in each case.

The amounts paid were as follows: For the death of Charles Lachiniski, $3,000: for the death of William Gollan, $3,000: for the death of Paul Gollan, $3,000; for the death of Emil Knoor, $3,000; for the death of August Yagusch, $3,000.  In the cases where the men were married, $3,000, and the families of the unmarried men were given $2,000.  The costs were also paid by the coal company and this made a total of $13,500, together with the $2,500 paid the Fagan family, $16,000 all told."


Results of the Fire in the Decatur, Ill. Coal Mine Shaft
Daily Free Press, Carbondale, Illinois
January 18, 1905

Decatur, Ill., Jan. 18. -- Nine persons are known to be dead or entombed as the result of a fire in a 600-foot coal mine shaft near here.

Rescuing parties went into the mine, but were unable to do anything, owing to the smoke.

All night hysterical women and men stood about the entrance to the shaft, awaiting the abatement of the fire to begin a search for the bodies of the dead.

The known dead and missing are:
  • August Jagusch, aged 51
  • Charles Laschinski
  • Emil Knorr, aged 20
  • Henry Gollan and son
  • Will Fagan
  • John Pride
  • August Rex
  • John Dunn
  • Martin Cullen
Those who escaped said it was impossible to live more than a few minutes in the choking clouds of smoke and miners were seen to fall and die in their efforts to break through the cordon of flames. Ten or twelve were enabled to crawl through an escapement at the rear of the shaft into a new shaft. One body was recovered in this way.  Fred Knorr, an aged man, escaped half suffocated. He was frantic with grief because he had seen his son, Emil, perish.
"I was near the mule stable when the fire started," said one survivor. "I started back toward the end of the shaft, shouting to the other workmen that the mine was on fire. I met two of them and one continued toward the back of the shafting crying the warning."

"The other man and I returned to the fire, thinking we might check it, but we found it smoldering, emitting gases in which it was impossible to live."

"We lowered our heads and burst through it, choking and gasping. The draft carried the smoke back into the shaft, so that we were able to get fresh air."

"Men came running up to the line of dark red fire, heavy with smoke, but could not break through it. They would fall shrieking or would turn back and suffocate in the fumes that were pouring back in the shaft."




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