Staff with the Division of Oil, Gas and Mining’s Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program (AMRP) was contacted by staff from the Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands (FFSL) Price Office regarding a fire burning on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Spring Canyon near Helper, Utah. FFSL investigated and found the fire to be burning in a coal seam and very close to the old Peerless Coal Mine No 2 and No 3 portals. A study of old mine maps digitized by the Utah Geological Survey showed that the old portals connected to extensive underground workings on both sides of the canyon. Further investigation indicated that several methane explosions and fatalities had occurred at the Peerless Mines while they were in operation. Continued observation showed that the fire was expanding into the coal seam by one foot per week.
AMRP worked with the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to obtain emergency approval of grant fund expenditures and extinguish the fire as soon as possible. While preparing the project details for the coal seam fire, a second fire was observed at the coal refuse pile located near the Peerless Mine No 1 mine portal in the same canyon. The fire was located approximately 600 feet north of the coal seam fire. Both coal fires were likely ignited by the Bear wildfire that had burned through the area in June 2021. The addition of the coal refuse fire doubled the project size and cost.
A coordinated, three-week effort by the AMRP resulted in emergency procurement authorization. The AMRP hired a contractor with experience on several previous reclamation projects. Construction started on August 23 with a track hoe improving access along the reclaimed road to the old portals. Modest improvements to the road allowed ATVs to transport materials to the site including water for quenching and mixing, fire-suppressant foam, and equipment fuel and minimizing impacts to the temporary access route. The burning coal seam was excavated, quenched with water and fire suppressant foam, mixed with soil from the site, then monitored for drops in temperature. Temperatures of the actively burning coal varied between 500- and 800-degrees F and decreased to below 97 degrees before the final backfill.
The coal refuse pile was quenched with water and fire suppressant foam and blended with onsite soil. Surface temperatures measured at several smoking vents and fractures varied between 113- and 235-degrees F. After 24 hours, the temperature was reduced to less than 69 degrees F, the area backfilled, and the access road was restored to its pre-work condition. The entire project was completed in five days.
The Peerless Coal fire project highlighted a great interaction between the AMRP, FFSL, and Bureau of Land Management. This project required the group to develop new procedures for handling emergency projects and was successful due to the dedication from all involved.