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Mine Disasters in the United States



Union Collieries Company
Kathleen Mine Fire

Dowell, Jackson County, Illinois
August 1, 1936
No. Killed - 9



See also: Kathleen Mine Fire, Feb. 23, 1921

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Rescuer Deaths

During the time the State mine rescue team was erecting seals outby the fire, several motor trips of material were sent into the 7th north haulage road which is on the return for this section.  With these trips, there were between 15 and 20 men, who had been sent to assist with the sealing.  All of these men were more or less affected with carbon monoxide; nine of them lost their lives.


On the night of August 1, 1936, a fire occurred in the Dowell mine of the Union Collieries Company at Dowell, Illinois, just south of DuQuoin, which caused the death of nine men by asphyxiation from carbon monoxide.  Twelve others were partially overcome, but were all revived.

The fire started by a transformer exploding.  The transformer was located near the face of 7 northeast, some 2 miles from the shaft bottom.  This transformer had just been set in place but not completely installed.  Electric power had evidently been connected.

The first indication of trouble was the kick out of the circuit breaker and the power suddenly going off.  The first trial at connection again threw the circuit breaker.  Rapid elimination of sections quickly ascertained the location of the electric short to be in the 7 northeast.  Investigation showed odor of fire in the return of this section.

The DuQuoin State Mine Rescue Team was at once ordered and this team quickly reached the fire location on foot.  Two of the team members, wearing their oxygen apparatus, came out to the shaft bottom at once on a locomotive to order material and men for quick sealing.  After giving these instructions, the men immediately returned.  Four men were on the shaft bottom.  One remained to organize workmen who had been called from the surface, and the other three (two section bosses and the electrical engineer) started in on a locomotive and left word that they would return immediately as soon as they ascertained conditions.  They did not wear any protective equipment.

The men from the surface, who had been called, arrived at the bottom of the shaft and waited for some time pending the return of the three officials.  Six other men then started in on a locomotive with one car of material, assuming that the first three men were delayed because of a derailed locomotive or some obstruction.  No message was received from these six and, after considerable waiting on the shaft bottom, two men started to walk the 2 miles.  One of these two men, while enroute, stated that he felt the effects of gas, then traveling was made on the intake air course as the haulageway was the return.  They finally got up to the mine rescue team who were waiting near the fire for the other men and material.

The team had heard nothing of either locomotive crew and they immediately returned along the return airway, which was the haulageway.  They found the first three men, who had dismounted from the locomotive in an attempt to reach an entrance to the intake airway.  The three were dead.  The second locomotive with its six men had evidently bumped into the first one, and indications were that the six men had been overcome with carbon monoxide while enroute.  Some of the six men were dead, and the others died enroute to the bottom.  These casualties occurred in by an upcast shaft in this section of the mine.

A group of other men in the shaft bottom, who became concerned about the non-return of the last two who had entered on foot, started to walk in.  After they had proceeded a short distance along the return, twelve of them became ill but they were brought back to the bottom without any casualties.

According to reports, no smoke or fire odor was apparent near the shaft bottom on the haulageway, which was the return airway, and, as it is much quicker to cover the 2 miles distance to the seat of the fire by locomotive or by walking on the return on account of the easier walking, this prompted the men to go in on the haulageway with the thought that when smoke would be encountered they could cross over into the intake air course.  Unfortunately, however, the smoke particles in the return air precipitated out before they traveled the 2 miles to the shaft bottom and, although the air was clear of smoke, the insidious and odorless carbon monoxide was present.


(From the 1936 Annual Illinois Coal Report)

Those killed in the Kathleen Mine are as folows:
  • Clarence E. Cawvey, of Dowell, electrical engineer, aged 34 years, married, leaving a widow and one child
  • Forest Devor, of Dowell, assistant foreman, aged 44 years, married, leaving a widow
  • George Ford, of DuQuoin, machine runner, aged 44 years, married, leaving a widow and one child
  • Logan Graeff, of Dowell, pumpman, aged 41 years, married, leaving a widow and one child
  • Edwin Harris, of DuQuoin, machine operator, aged 35 years, married, leaving a widow and one child
  • Steve Hrin, of Dowell, Assistant Foreman, aged 42 years, married, leaving a widow and one child
  • John Kelly, of Elkville, motorman, aged 34 years, married, leaving a widow
  • Louis Rees, of Elkville, driller and shooter, aged 44 years, married, leaving a widow and two children
  • Joe Spiller, of DuQuoin, examiner, aged 31 years, married, leaving a widow and two children




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