Crews will try to halt coal fire |

Crews will try to halt coal fire

Dennis Webb

The state will take a stab this year at fighting an underground fire that sparked the destructive 2002 Coal Seam blaze, which destroyed 29 homes in the Glenwood Springs area.Crews will try to seal off openings and cut off airflow to the underground coal seam where the fire has been burning since 1910. The 2002 fire started when the underground fire ignited vegetation on the surface. High winds quickly drove the wildfire east to the Glenwood Springs area.Steve Renner, project manager for Colorados Division of Minerals and Geologys inactive mines program, said the area has at least four collapsed mine openings in which air is still feeding the fire.Stan Rachesky, who lost his home to the 2002 fire, says the new effort is too little, too late.Its kind of after the fact. I already lost everything I own, just like everyone else did, Rachesky said.The South Canyon fire is the largest underground coal fire in Colorado, Renner said. Statewide, there are 34 such fires. Eleven of them are in Garfield County, concentrated along the Grand Hogback formation stretching from South Canyon west past Rifle.Renner said the South Canyon fire also may be the most technically complex of the underground fires. At least three different mines were located on three different but overlapping coal seams, and at least two of the three seams are burning, he said.You can spend an awful lot of money if you dont know what youre doing and basically not accomplish a thing up there, he said.He said there are signs that coal seam fires have caused wildfires elsewhere in the state, but generally in remote areas. The state is interested in fighting the South Canyon fire because of its proximity to Glenwood and the destruction in 2002.Glenwood Springs Fire Chief Mike Piper said he understands residents frustration. But he thinks the Coal Seam Fire was the result of a rare set of circumstances that also involved prolonged drought and 65-mph winds. While the fire source remains, similar coal-seam fires can be found elsewhere along the Grand Hogback, he said.I drive home and look at that whole Hogback burning in New Castle, and I dont see anyone mitigating that either, he said. It could have come out of the ground and started there just as easily as South Canyon.But its not easy to fight the fires, or even try to thin vegetation near them.Its rugged terrain; theres holes all over the place, Piper said. Youre walking along and all of a sudden youre sunk up to your knees in loose coal that had caught on fire.Efforts to seal off airways to a fire near Harvey Gap Reservoir north of Silt have resulted in general cooling of the fire, Renner said. But the project also revealed that there are probably multiple coal seams and multiple mines at the site, Renner said. He said he wouldnt be surprised if the project failed to reach all the burning areas. But Renner said he could spend his agencys entire budget for inactive mines just fighting a couple of fires. And there would be no guarantee of success.Theres no right answer on these fires, Renner said.Vail, Colorado

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