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American Mining, Smelting & Refining Co.
Lark Section - U. S. and Lark Mine Fire

Lark, Salt Lake County, Utah
July 16, 1950
No. Killed - 5

USBM Final Investigation Report  PDF Format

Rescuer Deaths

The fire was first detected by a pumpman who encountered smoke while being hoisted in the Lark Shaft from the 2500 level to the 1200 level.  He returned by cage to the 2500 level to notify the hoistman by telephone and died sometime later after closing the water doors when a power outage occurred.  The other four men died while attempting to rescue him.

Five men perished from fire gases originating in a battery-charging station on the 1400 level, 5728 Incline Shaft.  The fire was first detected by a pumpman who encountered smoke while being hoisted in the Lark Shaft from the 2500 level to the 1200 level.

He returned by cage to the 2500 level to notify the hoistman by telephone and died sometime later after closing the water doors when a power outage occurred.  The other four men died while attempting to rescue him.  News of the fire was promptly phoned to the watchman on surface by the hoistman.

The U. S. and Lark Mine is comprised of two widely separated mining operations having a single underground shaft connection.  The U. S. Section is operated through a haulage tunnel and has several other openings on the Bingham Canyon side of the mountain.

The Lark Section is operated through the Mascotte Tunnel entering the foot of the east slope of the Oquirrh Range at Lark, Utah, about 3 miles east of Bingham.  At the time of the disaster a new connecting tunnel, the Bingham Tunnel, was being driven from the surface at Lark toward the connecting shaft in the U. S. Section.  The Bingham Tunnel was started 440 feet northeast and 15 feet above the Mascotte Tunnel portal and crossed over the top of the Mascotte Tunnel at an acute angle.

At the time of the fire the face of the Bingham Tunnel had been advanced several hundred feet beyond a branch to the main Lark Shaft serving the Lark Section and there were two connections with the Lark Section workings; a 700 foot branch had been driven to intersect the Mascotte Tunnel about 250 feet outby the Lark Shaft and an intersection had been made with 2808 crosscut of the Lark Section for ventilation control purposes.  The branch connection had a wooden ventilation stopping in it and the 2808 crosscut had a ventilation door installation.

Investigation revealed the fire started in the batterycharging station on the 1400 level of 5728 Incline.

The fire burned about 10 feet outby the station then extended up the inclined shaft to the upper levels and to the Mascotte Tunnel level through No. 4 Incline Shaft before it was brought under control.  The batterycharging station was situated in the open, along the side of 5728 Incline Shaft and was timbered heavily with wooden cross bars and 2-inch lagging.  The power wires into the station were fashioned by nailing them to the timbers.  The motor-generator charging equipment was installed on a wooden floor.

During the work stoppage electric lights and heaters had been installed under and around stationary electrical equipment throughout the mine, including the battery-charging station, to keep the motors and other electrical equipment dry and ready for resumption of work.  The source of ignition was believed to be from the electrical heating equipment or from power wires contacting combustible materials.

Reports on the fire fighting activities pointed out that fog nozzle sprays were found to be an important means of pushing smoke ahead so that fire fighters could advance safely.

Historical Summary of Mine Disasters in the United States - Volume I

Smoke Bars Attempts at Mine Rescue
Ogden Standard Examiner, Utah
July 17, 1950

Lark, Utah, July 17 (AP) -- Thick clouds of smoke were termed the number one hazard today as rescue workers tried to reach five men lost underground since yesterday in a lead mine.  Huge blowers were set up in main shafts to clear the smoke which rescue crews said prevented them from exploring depths of the mine where the men might be huddled.

A 120-horsepower blower was hauled to the mine at mid-morning.  It will augment the two 15 H.P. units now in use.

Mine Official Oscar Glaeser said it was believed that the men might be in a shaft below the main tunnels.  He entered the mine with other officials to determine if smoke would allow the penetration downward through a main vertical shaft.  Glaeser is industrial relations manager for the American Mining, Smelting and Refining Company, owner of the mine.

"Buck" Grant, one of the supervisors of the rescue operation, said it might be hours, or days before the five miners are found.  The hope was held that the men had found there were sections of the mine where fresh oxygen is being pumped in.

The rescue workers can spend only about an hour in the shafts.  Their oxygen helmets contain only that much supply.  They say that they cannot even see their hands in front of their faces because of the smoke.

The mine has been penetrated along the Mascot Tunnel, a main shaft, to the 6,200-foot level.  The men are hanging canvas over the drifts (side tunnels), to block off the main passages.  In this manner they hope to clear the main routes of smoke to permit excursions into the drifts.

Air is being pumped into the Mascot Tunnel in an attempt to blow the smoke through a U-shaped tunnel arrangement and out of the Utah Construction Company Tunnel.  This route extends between three and four miles.  It is believed that timber inside the mine is burning.  The mine is composed of a labyrinth of some 400 miles of tunnels.  This includes the main passages as well as the numerous drifts which cut off at intervals.  And the men may be at any point in this maze of tunnels.

Above the mine entrance, on a little ledge, a small crowd silently watches the operation.  Among these are wives and children of the missing men.  Four are married.  Some of the women are seated on orange crates, still dressed in their house coats.

Only seven or eight men are in the mine at a time.  Between 25 and 30 wait outside, eager to join the rescue efforts.

The men have been missing since early yesterday when fire broke out in the Lark mine of the U.S. Smelting, Refining & Mining Company.

They are identified as:
  • Horace Martin Seal, 59, a hoist operator
  • Leland Neilsen, 38, pump operator
  • Robert Gordon Meterhoffer, 36, electrician foreman
  • Byron G. Thomas, 46, surface foreman
  • Clyde Auguston, 41, an assistant mine superintendent.
The men were engaged in maintenance operations at the mine, which has been shut down since July 1 by a strike of United Steelworkers.

Some 50 rescue workers, including a number of crews from nearby mines, made repeated attempts yesterday to locate the missing men but were driven back to the entrances by heavy smoke.

Water was shut off to prevent flooding and possibly drowning the trapped workers.

W. C. Page, vice president and general manager of the company's western operations, said Seal and Neilsen are believed to be near the 1,000-foot level of the Lark shaft and the other three somewhere between the 5,000 and 7,100 foot levels in the Mascot shaft.

Neilsen and Seal were on maintenance shift Saturday night.  Seal let Neilsen down to open a water door at the 1,000-foot level.  Neither worker reported by telephone.  Meyerhoffer, Thomas and Auguston entered the mine at 4 a.m. yesterday shortly after the fire was discovered.  They did not report.

Lark, Utah, July 17 (AP) -- Between 25 and 30 men silently wait outside a lead mine in this tiny mining community until the time they can join the search for five miners lost underground.  They pass the time quietly talking -- and drinking coffee.

The five men have been in the American Mining, Smelting and Refining Company mine since early yesterday.

A fire which has filled the tunnels with smoke prevented their return to the surface.  And the smoke has kept the bulk of rescue crews from entering.

The lost men are all maintenance workers.  The mine has been closed by a strike since July 1.

And on a bulletin board on the shack where the miners standby is this lone notice: "Strike vote: Yes - 700.  No - 238."

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