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Northwestern Improvement Company
Roslyn Mine Explosion and Fire

Roslyn, Kittitas County, Washington
October 3, 1909
No. Killed - 10

Final Investigation Report  (2.3 Mb)  PDF Format

See also: Northwestern Mine Asphyxiation, Jan. 29, 1909
  Northwestern Mine Explosion, Nov. 16, 1915

9 Dead, 2 Dying in Roslyn Mine
The Morning Oregonian, Portland, OR
October 4, 1909

Roslyn, Wash., Oct. 3 - (Special.) - Fifteen men are believed to have been killed from an explosion of gas in the shaft of Mine No. 4, of the Northwestern Improvement Company at 12:45 o'clock this afternoon.

The mine in the neighborhood of the shaft is burning fiercely, flames rushing through the shaft with an awful roar.  The electric pumps are cut off, and the water supply in the city is very low.  It is thought the fire in the shaft will not affect the other mines, but it may be six months before the shaft can be put into working condition again.  It is said that the shaft is caving in and other explosions may occur at any time.

The known dead:
  • William Arundel, track man
  • Dominic Bartolero, trackman
  • Dan Hardy, trackman
  • Philip Pozarich, trackman
  • Tom Marsolyn, trackman
  • John E. Jones, pumpman; son of John X. Jones
  • Carl Berger, gang foreman
  • Aaron Isaackson, laboroer
  • James Gurrell, trackman
Those who are injured and not expected to live are:
  • Otis Newhouse, outside forman
  • John X. Jones, engineer
The cause of the explosion is unknown.  The fire bosses had just left the mine and had reported all well.

Had the accident occurred on a working day, loss of live, it is feared, would have been appalling.  Five hundred men are employed in mine No. 4, which is known as "the shaft."

When the explosion occurred a great volume of fire went hundreds of feet into the air.  Immediately the big shft plant was enveloped in flames, the siren at the electric plant began to scream and people started running from every quarter of the city by thousands.  Excitement was intense, and as soon as people got close enough to see what had really occurred, women and children began to cry and moan.

Shaft Crumbles Like Egg Shell

The fire department of Roslyn turned out and the Cle Elum department was rushed to the scene, but beyond saving the outside buildings and lumber yards and sawmill, little could be accomplished.  The big hoist of the shaft crumbled like an eggshell as the fierce flames swept up from the interior.  Cinders began flying in every driection and buildings in all parts of the city caught fire, but so far all have been extinguished by the vigilance of the residents.

Within 30 minutes after the explosion wagons began to bring in the injured.  The first man brought in was William Arundel, who is burned beyond recognition but is still alive.  The injured were taken to the emergency hospital, where they are being cared for.

Largest Mine in State

The mines of the Northwestern Improvement Company are the largest in the state and have a producing capacity of 8000 tons a day and employ 2500 men.  The loss of the shaft will materially affect the coal supply of the state.  The officers of the Northwestern Improvement Company are doing everything in their power to relieve suffering and to save property.  The air fans at No. 2 mine have been reversed and are sending a strong current into the shaft to hold the fire in check as far as possible and to assist rescue parties in entering the mine.

Although the city has been wild with excitement everything is quiet tonight.  People are still on the streets in large numbers discussing the awful tragedy.  As yet it is impossible to tell the extent of the fire in the mine or the exact number of men who were killed at the bottom of the shaft, for it is impossible to enter the mine yet on account of the heat and smoke and the number of men that were working at and near the bottom can only be estimated.  In a statement this evening Superintendent John G. Green said:
I never was more surprised in my life when I heard the explosion.  At first I supposed it was the explosion of one of the boilers at the power house, but when I rushed to where I could see I was appalled to learn it was an explosion in the shaft.  Not five minutes before the fire bosses had reported everything clear and this morning a force of electricians were sent into the mine to test some new safety lamps, and all of the electricians had just come out and reported they could find no gas.

What caused the explosion is a mystery to me.  It is one of those things that just happen without an explanation.  I am afraid the shaft is a total loss, at least it will be months before it can be reopened.  I will send rescue parties in from No. 2 just as soon as it is safe to enter the mine.  No one can regret this terrible occurrence more than I.
J. F. Menzies, general superintendent of the mines, is very ill with typhoid fever, but has been giving directions since the explosion and his nurse says he is bearing up remarkably well.

The calamity is the worst that has befallen the city of Roslyn since the big explosion on May 10, 1892, when Roslyn Mine No. 2 exploded with a toll of half a hundred lives.

Victims, Men of Families

With the exception of John E. Jones, aged 21, all the dead and fatally injured are married and have families.  The ages of these men range from 35 to 65 years.  The bodies of Bartolero, Hardy, Pazarich, Marsolyn, Jones and Isaacson are in the shaft and may never be recovered.

The list of known dead and injured contains the names of all who were working in or about the shaft.  It is generally believed that other men are in the burning mine, but such were below the ground without authority and an accurate check is not possible until tomorrow.

Identified by Missing Finger

Otis Newhouse, outside foreman, has been employed at the mine only a year, coming to the Northwest from Streator, Ill.  His family moved to Roslyn from Streator only a few weeks ago.  When the explosion happened, Newhouse was on the tipple laying a new floor.  The force of the explosion threw him high into the air, and he fell on a pile of sawdust 150 feet away.  His clothes had been torn from his body and when he was found all that remained was the right cuff of his shirt.  His body was burned beyond recognition, identification being made because of a missing finger on his right hand.

When he regained consciousness Dr. W. H. Payne, one of the company's physicians, said to him: "I am afraid you are in for it."

Newhouse replied bravely, smiling as he said: "Oh, I'll live to see other men dead."

Children Find Father Mangled

In spite of his brave spirit Dr. Payne says that the men cannot live through the night.

The children of James Gurrell, who was working with Newhouse, were returning from church at the time of the accident and were among the first to reach the scene.  They saw the burned and mangled body of their father, who was still alive, carried away to the Emergency Hospital where he died.

The shaft, at the bottom of which lie the bodies of six men, is 640 feet deep.  George E. Hopkins, chief accountant of the mine company believes that it will cost $50,000 to open the shaft.

The loss damage to the buildings above ground will amount to $30,000 and machinery at the bottom of the shaft, valued at $40,000, is a total loss.

Second Shock Starts Panic

A scare was caused at 6 o'clock tonight when a second explosion, deep down in the mine, was heard.  The earth trembled and shook with the force of the explosion and hundreds of people who were gathered about the shaft scattered and ran in all directions.  The second explosion caused no noticeable increase in the intensity of the fire.

Rescue Party Blocked

Late tonight a resuce party of six men entered No. 1 slope leading to the bottom of the shaft where it is believed the men were killed.  After having been gone half an hour they returned, reporting that the explosion had caused a cave-in 150 feet from the shaft.  The men rested a few minutes and shortly before midnight the rescue party entered the dip entrance in another effort to locate the bodies and rescue any men who have escaped death.

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