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Mine Disasters in the United States


Union Collieries Company
Kathleen Mine Fire

Dowell, Jackson County, Illinois
February 23, 1921
No. Killed - 7



See also:   Kathleen Mine Fire, Aug. 1, 1936

From the Google News Archives:  External Link
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A mine fire occurred at the Kathleen Mine of the Union Collieries Company on February 23, 1921, which resulted in the sealing on top of both shafts, with seven men in the mine.

It is not known what actually caused the fire, but it is assumed that a curtain caught fire from an electric wire or wires.

Main entries at this mine were on a three entry system, and cross and panel entries were on a two entry system.  Panels were connected between cross entries.  The fire originated in one of the three main north entries near the intersection of the pair of cross entries where the seven men were entombed.

The smoke was first discovered by the surveyor and two helpers who had just left the above-mentioned seven men, to go to the shaft bottom for their lunch which they had forgotten.  As they turned south on the main north from the pair of entries where the seven men were now entombed, they met smoke but assumed that it was due to a blown out cable.

They traveled to the faces of the main north and started down the middle entry.  They found smoke there also.

They returned to the faces of the main north entry, and the surveyor, with some of the men working the main entries, endeavored to get back to the seven men, but failed to do so because of the dense smoke.  They returned to the faces of the main north and traveled back on the west entry of the main north, trying to find a west cross entry which connected to the other side of the mine.  They failed to locate this pair of entries, so the surveyor with his two helpers and two of the three main north miners worked their way through the fire by crawling close to the west rib of this main north entry.  The other miner refused to pass through the fire and returned towards the faces of the main north.  This miner found the west cross entry and came out on the other side of the mine.

Attempts were made to extinguish the fire sufficiently to reach the seven men, but the fire gained very fast.  Rescue teams were called, having breathing apparatus, but the teams were unable to get to the men because of the extreme heat.  The shafts were then sealed on the surface.

A drill hole was then drilled down to the face of a parting entry that was just being started near the faces of the entries where the seven men were entombed, with the hopes that the men had sealed themselves in before the smoke and gases from the fire had reached them.  Smoke and gas came through this hole, proving failure of this effort.

Opening of the mine began March 17 by rescue teams under the direction of the State Department of Mines and Minerals and the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Mines, and was completed on March 29 when all the bodies were removed.


(From the 1921 Annual Coal Report - Fatal Accidents)

These men suffocated in the Union Collieries Company's mine as the result of the fire.  The message did not reach me [the inspector] until 6:15 p.m. February 23.  I reached the mine at 8 o'clock that evening and went into it with two helmet teams and fresh air men, and did everything possible to reach the entombed men and extinguish the fire, but to no avail.

After several attempts to reach the men, the extreme danger of an explosion occurring, and no hope of the unfortunate men being alive, it was unanimously decided by those present that the only way to stop the fire and avoid further loss of life was to seal the shaft, which was begun at 1:30 a.m. February 24th.  The exact cause of the fire is unknown.

Opening up of the mine began March 17 and completed on the 29th when all the bodies were removed.

The deceased:
  • Elmer Kirkpatrick, laborer, age 25 years, single
  • Adam Klepecky, miner, age 38 years, married, leaves a widow and four children
  • Edward O'Brien, miner age 35 years, single
  • James Pharris, miner, age 29 years, married, leaves a widow and two children
  • Brown Smith, miner, age 34 years, single
  • Jacob Valerius, trackman, age 25 years, single
  • Thomas Waugh, miner, age 35 years, married, leaves a widow and one child


7 Die in Dowell Mine Disaster
Daily Free Press, Carbondale, Illinois
February 24, 1921

Seven med died entombed in the Kathleen mine at Dowell yesterday afternoon when the mine caught fire.

Hundreds of other miners escaped at the discovery of the conflagration.  The seven who lost their lives were in the entry about a mile from the shaft and were trapped between the fire and the shaft.

Rescuers with mine firefighting equipment were rushed to the scene from Benton, DuQuoin and Royalton.  They fought in vain the desperately spreading fire for hours and were finally forced to seal up the shafts to get the fire under control and to put it out.  All attempts with chemicals and other firefighting apparatus were of no avail.  Firemen were unable to get within a hundred feet of the blaze in the entry, spreading and emitting deadly gases.

Several of the fighters and others working to get the fire under control and attempting to rescue the dying and entombed miners, suffered gas attacks and were carried from the scene on stretchers.

Little hope for the rescue of the men was seen at the outset.  The fire burned rapidly with indications of its spreading throughout the mine.

Shortly after the fire started at noon yesterday when the miners gained access to the shaft through which they escaped with their lives, firefighting equipment was on the scene and rescuers were at work.  But the entombed fire surged within the mine.

After four hours of attempt to rescue alive the doomed men and efforts to extinguish the fire there was nothing left to do except to seal the mine, the shaft, the air shaft and the entry in which the fire started.

The men who lost their lives were working in an entry about 3,000 feet from the shaft.  The fire started in the northwest entry about 600 feet between the men and the shaft out of the mine, trapping the miners from all means of escape, the blaze between them and the shaft.

The cause of the fire is said to have resulted from a short circuit in the electrical cable from which power is obtained to operate the cars in the mine.  The cable is along the track a sort of third rail proposition.  Once fire starts in a mine it spreads rapidly and is one of the worst fires known in its persistency and death it spreads in its wake.

First aid was immediately sent to the scene of the disaster, physicians from DuQuoin and Elkville with supplies for the injured.

As soon as it was seen that there was no chance to get the men out, to save the mine from burning out entirely, the shafts were sealed to smother the flames.

That the men entombed died within a short time after the fire started is the opinion of those familiar with mine fires, succumbing to suffocation.

Relatives and friends of the ill-fated men are reluctant to give up hope.  The father of Valerius, son of a wealthy farmer and former owner of the land under which the fire started, offered $10,000 for the rescue of his son.

Rescuers from Benton, some of whom saw the Cherry mine fire, declare the Kathleen fire is the worst they ever witnessed.  Mine officials stated today it will probably be more than a month before the fire ceases burning and the bodies exhumed from the debris.



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