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Burning Utah mine had been cited for possible fire hazards, records show

Posted at 5:39 PM, Sep 23, 2022

EMERY COUNTY, Utah — Three times in less than 18 months, inspectors cited the Lila Canyon Mine, which is currently on fire, for not doing enough to prevent fires, according to a federal database.

In January and February of 2021 and again in May of this year, the mine failed to erect an adequate firewall between the coal or other combustibles and unattended motors or electrical equipment, according to citations published by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration fined Lila Canyon a total of $568 for the three offenses. Neither the mine operator nor any government agency has stated what caused the blaze that ignited Tuesday and is continuing to burn. No injuries have been reported.

Fire is a big concern in mining.

“You have to use intrinsically safe equipment,” said Guang Xu, an associate professor of mining and explosives engineering at Missouri S&T. “That means for electrical instrument that cannot generate sparks.”

He said coal mines have a dual concern about igniting the coal and methane.

“Coal mine, there is methane,” Xu said, “and methane is one type of a flammable gas. Once the concentration reaches to certain concentration, the fire will cause[a] methane explosion.”

What type of fire is burning will influence how to extinguish it. Xu said if mine operators can determine methane levels are low, firefighters could be sent in to extinguish the blaze – if the fire isn’t burning too hot.

Other options would be to flood the mine or induce nitrogen into it to reduce the oxygen the fire can breathe.

A fire at the Wilberg Mine – in the same county as Lila Canyon – killed 27 people in 1984. That mine was sealed for about 18 months to limit oxygen and snuff the blaze.

The Crandall Canyon Mine was also near Lila Canyon. It was owned by Murray Energy and its late chief executive, Bob Murray. Two collapses there in 2007 killed nine people.

The successor to Murray Energy, American Consolidated Natural Resources, owns Lila Canyon.